Congregations unite to recall King's lessons

January 21, 1991|By Drew Bailey | Drew Bailey,Evening Sun Staff

"Hurt, sadness, pain" were the words Marjorie Lewis used to describe what she felt in 1968 after learning that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

But there was no time for shedding tears yesterday at a church service commemorating the birthday of the slain civil rights leader. Instead, Lewis joined about 100 others at the Woodberry Church of the Brethren in the Hampden section of Baltimore yesterday for a "celebration" and shouted "Amen!" when her parish priest spoke about King's accomplishments. Many attending the service said it did not have the sad, emotional tone they had anticipated.

"It was a joyous occasion," Evelyn Carnell, a Woodberry member said. "I don't think Martin Luther King would have wanted us to be sad."

The third annual service commemorating the birthday of the civil rights leader who would have turned 62 this year was organized by the Rev. David Rimbach of Hampden United Methodist Church. The service brought together members of several different churches of different denominations.

Many members came from St. Ann's and St. Ambrose's -- Catholic churches with mostly black congregations. Others came from Woodberry and several United Methodist churches in the Hampden area with mostly white congregations.

"As King once said," Rimbach began, "one of the most segregated hours there is is 11 a.m. Sunday morning." He stressed that Christians should be in the forefront in guaranteeing racial harmony.

"There are a lot of people in the church that don't have sympathy for people of other colors or cultures," Woodberry member Helen Downs said. "I think things like this take down some of the walls between us."

"You always learn something when you come to church," Gladys Griner, a Woodberry member said. But with a mixed crowd like this you always learn more."

Some said that one of the speakers, the Rev. Thomas Schwind, a priest from St. Ambrose Catholic Church, sounded like King, using the civil rights leader's trademark voice intonations and pauses.

"I wondered if he had listened to the tapes [of King's speeches]," said the Rev. Ruth Ann Russell of the Roland Avenue Evergreen United Methodist Church.

"It was uplifting," said Carl Davis, 15, also a Woodberry member.

Schwind said that King "spoke not only as a man, but as a man of God," with congregants then shouting "Amen." Comparing King to the ancient Hebrew King Samuel, Schwind said, "Because he listened to God, he grew. God did not permit any of his words to go without effect."

On a lighter side, a show was presented by the "Good News Puppets," a youth ministry of Hampden United Methodist Church. A choir from Robert Poole Middle School sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth," and "We Shall Overcome."

Salonia Cook, a member of the Roland Avenue Evergreen United Methodist Church, said she believes some of the hurdles to King's dream have been overcome, and that the integrated service was proof.

"People of different races were hand-in-hand in Hampden," Cook said. "One child even spoke against the Skinheads. It was a celebration of the principles of Martin Luther King."

Schwind called the service a "countersignal" to messages sent out by Skinheads that have been active in the area.

Speaking on the Persian Gulf War, Schwind made reference to an Evening Sun article on the outrage of some people that some "persons of color are fighting persons of color." Such situations would disappoint King, a civil rights leader and a man of peace, Schwind said.

And, although there is "still a fight to fight, and a mountain to climb," people working toward King's dream can still be hopeful, he said, because "our God is a God who looks down from on high," Schwind said.

"That's right!" some congregants responded.

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