Local ministers find inspiration in the legacy of Martin Luther King


January 21, 1991|By Henry Scarupa

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God.

"Letter From Birmingham Jail," by Martin Luther King Jr.

Although known to the world as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he is often referred to affectionately by members of the black community as "My King" or simply "Martin," suggesting a special relationship and an enduring closeness.

Nowhere is this more true than among black clergymen, who draw inspiration and encouragement from the life and example of the late civil rights leaders, whose birthday the nation officially celebrates today.

The pastors of four Baltimore churches reflect on how King hainfluenced their ministry and tell how their churches are helping the men and women of their communities in the struggle for dignity, peace and human progress.

Harold A. Carter

New Shiloh Baptist Church

Mr. Carter was an undergraduate at Alabama State College in Montgomery, Ala., when King became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in the same city in the mid-'50s. Later when he entered the ministry, he was invited by King to became his associate and train with him. In the ensuing years, he took part in civil rights activities alongside King, including the Selma march.

Today King's image is seen throughout New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore -- in photos and in works of art such as the dramatic painting of a modern crucifixion scene hanging in the chapel, which depicts King and a symbolic black family at the foot of the cross. In the foreground, Southern policemen with dogs and fire hoses assault black throngs.

"All this is an extension of Dr. King's influence on my life in so far as what can be done," says Mr. Carter, as he leads a visitor through the large, new inner city church. "He taught me to think beyond what's there, beyond the conventional. When we

started, we didn't even have $25,000. But we had a strong belief and that made this possible."

The 4,000-member church has an extensive educational program, attracting up to 500 men, women and children for Saturday School, which combines Bible study with remedial work in academic subjects and is open to the community. The church's RAISE/Help program provides mentors for 60 students, sixth grade and up, to improve their success in school.

"The biggest thing we do is empower people to believe in themselves, to make their lives meaningful and purposeful in today's society," Mr. Carter says.

Trinity's pastor says he has been kneeling so often lately to pray for peace that his knees are sore. Not surprisingly his preoccupation with the events in the Persian Gulf has begun to shape his activities as a minister.

On the Sunday prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the area, he preached a sermon on peace and held a special prayer service in which worshipers came up to the altar individually to pray for peace.

Later that day on his regular Sunday broadcast over WBGR-FM (860), he voiced his opposition to war in the Middle East, calling again for peace. On Jan. 15, he joined a march for peace and justice, which moved from the church's neighborhood to the Fifth Regiment Armory, holding aloft a poster with Martin Luther King's portrait.

For Mr. Calhoun, King was an exemplar for peace and the conscience of America.

"King had a way of putting war into perspective," he says. "He would have unequivocally opposed the war in the Mideast as he opposed the Vietnam War."

Despite the trials facing the nation, Mr. Calhoun says he still clings to hope as King once held onto hope.

"Even with all the dismay and despair and darkness that looms over our society today, in part because of the war, in part because of the retrogression in race relations, Dr. King gives me a hope that is unexplainable," he says.

Like many other black churches, Trinity Baptist on Druid HilAvenue aids people threatened by rent eviction and the cutoff of utilities. The church also operates a food pantry for the needy.

Rev. Maurice T. Wilson

St. John A.M.E. Church

In King the black church has found a model for social action, says Mr. Wilson, one combining social protest with help for the less fortunate.

"He [King] was a prophet who articulated a vision for us," he explains. "Like Moses, he pointed the way. It's the responsibility of all of us to take the dream and move on with it, to do the very hard work of making the dream a reality."

Holding onto the King vision becomes all the more critical in the face of recent setbacks, such as the presidential veto of the civil rights bill and the failure of the federal government to deal adequately with pressing domestic needs, according to Mr. Wilson. He feels the drain of the nation's resources by the Middle East conflict is certain to perpetuate these problems.

Like many African-Americans, he is angered that the deadline given Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait fell on Jan. 15, King's actual birthday.

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