Answering The Call: A Good Time For Benedict Dorsey Leslie Rice ---------------------------------- Homewood News and Information This year's Black History Month comes during an exciting time for Benedict Dorsey, an assistant director in the Homewood Office of Student Financial Aid. In December, the adviser to the African American Theater Troupe and the Gospel Choir staged at Hopkins a wildly successful tribute to African American Broadway theater, called We're Gonna Have a Good Time. This month, he will present an encore performance of Good Time and serve as adviser to a second student production, both celebrating Black History Month. And in January, he was one of eight Hopkins employees awarded the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Award for outstanding volunteer work in the community, much of it related to serving his church. Last week, that congregation, the New Light Baptist Church, paid a weeklong tribute to him for his pastoral anniversary. This is Dorsey's third year as a bishop and pastor of the small church in Sandtown-Winchester. And in a way, it was during Black History Month a dozen years ago when his ministry first began. That story begins shortly after his graduation from Loyola College when Dorsey was a young Army captain stationed in Korea. One night he was lying in his bunk, staring at the ceiling, struggling more than usual to figure out what he was meant to do with his life. "All of a sudden, I heard a voice speak, as if it was right in the room there with me, and it said, 'I want you to preach the gospel in the military,'" recalled Dorsey. "I wanted to make sure that it was really His voice, and not my own, so I replied, 'If this is really Your will, send me five witnesses.' " Dorsey said that the very next day a pastor he knew approached him and said, "I already heard you've been called to preach the gospel." This happened again and again, and when the fifth person approached him and said, "You've been called," Dorsey recalled, he was so overcome he fell to the floor in a faint. He soon began working as an associate pastor in an apostolic church, directing a gospel hour and Bible studies in addition to his military duties. When it became known that he had written, composed and directed Christian theater musicals and dramas since he was a child, he was commissioned to direct a show during Black History Month. That production, Our Time Dun' Come, was performed in every Army station in Korea, including those in the demilitarized zone. After leaving the military in 1987, Dorsey returned to Baltimore and in 1988 was ordained as a junior bishop in the Greater Grace Churches Worldwide Church. By 1993, he was full bishop and pastor of New Light Baptist Church, on W. Baltimore Street, about the same time he came to Hopkins from Howard University. New Light, about to be renamed Ministry of St. Luke 4:18, is a tiny, dilapidated building that only seats about 100 people in its chapel. It rests in the heart of Baltimore's urban ills, next to liquor stores and crack houses. But it is a place that literally vibrates with its sheer heart and resounding gospel music. "The minute the organ begins to play, you forget how hard the benches are and how this tiny storefront church is in the worst section of town," said Hopkins sophomore J.T. McMillan, a biology major and director of the Hopkins Gospel Choir. "It is awe-inspiring really, how powerful and joyful that place becomes." And the people of New Light are perhaps some of the warmest and welcoming in Baltimore, Dorsey said. "The congregation is completely without pretension," he said. "No one, no matter how down and out they are, walks into a service without receiving a handshake or a hug. You'll see people in mink coats put their arms around hard-core winos without giving it a second thought." And despite the fact that the church has very few resources, it runs food kitchens, emergency shelters, a children's Bible study class and a young men's rap session. That's why the church is being renamed after the passage in St. Luke that speaks of the call to heal the broken-hearted, to preach to the imprisoned and to "set at liberty them that are bruised," Dorsey said. His work here on the Homewood campus is also something of a ministry. His office could use a revolving door with all the students coming in and out, whether they are working with him on financial aid issues or just stopping by because they have come to know him as a friend and role model through his gospel music and theater work. "He's my mentor," McMillan said. "It's very meaningful for me to see a minister living everything he believes in. And we have fun, we joke around all the time. He made me feel relaxed the minute I met him." McMillan described how moved he felt when he saw Merrick Barn fill to capacity last December during the production of We're Gonna Have a Good Time. "I kind of expected that, because word has gotten around about how good Benedict Dorsey's productions are," McMillan said. "But what I didn't expect was to see the room on the second night filled with so many Caucasian, Indian and Asian American people. That was really gratifying to have so much support on this campus. It's built relationships." We're Gonna Have a Good Time, which sold out its December performances, will be staged on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 22 and 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Arellano Theater. Also as part of the Black History Month celebration, the African American Theater Troupe, which Dorsey advises, will stage--in association with The Barnstormers--the James Baldwin play Blues for Mr. Charlie, about a town's ignorance and the murder no one will bring to justice. The production will run Friday through Sunday, Feb. 9 through 11, at 8 p.m. in Arellano Theater. "People that normally wouldn't talk to me are stopping me to say how good the production was or how great the gospel choir is," McMillan said. "It makes me feel like we're a vibrant presence on campus. Benedict Dorsey has contributed a great deal to that. We owe him a lot for that."
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