A United Methodist minister standing trial in a Silver Spring church on charges of sexually harassing five women denied the charges yesterday and told the court that he is a warm and demonstrative person who upholds the church's moral teachings.

The Rev. John P. Carter, a former staff member of the church's Baltimore Annual Conference, told the 13-member church trial court that he had never recommended open marriages or talked about multiple sex partners as a gift from God -- two of several allegations made about him during this five-day trial.

Marriage is "a covenant," he said, "on which two people stand and no others."

The bulk of Carter's testimony, which lasted more than three hours, centered on his leadership of Mountaintop Ministry, a community development program that was opened about a year ago, loosely under the auspices of the United Methodist Church.

The Mountaintop staff -- primarily young women who wanted to work with the poor and minorities -- was like a family, Carter, 36, testified yesterday.

It was a family that worked "intensely and closely together," Carter said.

The family was shattered seven months after it formed when, in April, five women who either worked for Carter or were interviewed for jobs by him filed charges of sexual harassment with the bishop of the annual conference.

Once they refused his advances, the women have testified, Carter dropped his support for their work or actively worked against them.

Carter testified that members of the Mountaintop staff often worked late, lunched and dined together and went into their Washington office on their days off. One Saturday, Carter recalled, Elaine de Coligny went to work to show him how to run the printing press.

De Coligny is one of two white women who, along with three black women, have brought charges against Carter.

Carter calmly denied testimony by de Coligny that he had talked to her about having multiple sex partners.

He said he had had "intellectual discussions" with her about Methodist doctrine on sex.

He said he did not kiss her, as she claims, when he congratulated her one night on getting a job with the Baltimore Annual Conference.

"I hugged her," Carter said.

Carter recalled that he would often kiss Janece Patterson, another of the women who brought charges, on the cheek when they parted company.

Such gestures, he said earlier, were not intended as sexual advances. "I have a hard time not touching people," Carter said.

Carter, who is black, said some of his gestures may have been misinterpreted by the white women who do not understand his culture.

Carter peppered his testimony with references to race, asserting in particular that the white leadership of the United Methodist Church would like to get rid of radical black ministers like himself.

Methodist officials dismissed Carter from his job on the conference staff on June 30. He was fired, conference officials have said, because he refused to accept direct orders concerning audits of projects he was responsible for, including Mountaintop.

Earlier, Carter was relieved of his duties at Mountaintop. No criminal charge has been filed against him.

Carter is the first United Methodist minister to go to trial on sexual harassment charges, according to national church officials.

If found guilty by nine of the 13 trial court members, he could be stripped of his ministerial credentials.

The trial is scheduled to continue next week.