Never mind that Martin Luther King Jr. was the subject of his sermon just six days earlier. The Rev. Raymond Kelly Jr. on Saturday was putting the finishing touches on another service to commemorate the famed civil rights leader.
"You could spend a whole month on Dr. King," Mr. Kelly said while writing in longhand the sermon he would give yesterday at Harlem Park Community Baptist Church on Gilmor Street in West Baltimore. "He was a man that stood for the ideals that we stand for: peace in the world, nonviolence. It's not difficult to talk about Martin Luther King in a series of sermons."
Yesterday's sermon, "Dreams Really Do Come True," came as the United States was preparing to mark Dr. King's birthday today with a national holiday. Federal offices, public schools and Baltimore and county offices in the area are closed.
Mr. Kelly, 55, who also is a biology teacher at Lake Clifton High School, spoke yesterday about the dreams of Dr. King and of the Old Testament's Joseph.
He sat alone at his desk in the church's cavernous nave Saturday trying to put together an inspirational message. His glasses were perched on the edge of his nose as he shuffled the pages of his Bible and books and magazines on Dr. King.
Joseph, he said, pointing to the book of Genesis, proved that dreams can take a while to come true, adding that it took time for the Biblical figure to fulfill his vision and become a ruler over his jealous brothers. Likewise, he added in his sermon, it could take time before Dr. King's dream of racial equality is realized.
In the 1960s, Mr. Kelly was in seminary at Howard University. Thecampus, he recalled, felt inspired.
"He made us aspire to greater heights," he said of Dr. King. "He gave us something to look forward to. He showed what a person could be if he applied himself. This was a black man, a Nobel prize-winner, somebody who had gone on to stand up to the establishment, speaking about racial equality and justice. So we felt very good about it."
Mr. Kelly said he has admired the civil rights leader for three decades.
"He really pulled blacks together," said Mr. Kelly. "We were more together when he was here than ever before. I think things would have been different if he had not been assassinated."
Later, he lamented, "I'm sure [Dr. King] would not be happy if he were here to see the crime and the violence and the injustices to the poor."
The celebration of Dr. King came midway through yesterday's services. Wanda Tyler, an elementary school-age girl, read a brief biography that described the civil rights leader as "a gentle warrior."
"His dream needs to be kept alive, because a lot of our young people don't realize what he did," said Colin M. Smith, 41, a deacon. "They're not told who he was and don't know what he was all about. If they only knew that his dream was of non-violence, they wouldn't be killing each other out there."
Mr. Kelly said the church can help.
"I have a dream that one day Harlem Park will rise up and become one of the great churches," he preached to an approving congregation as his voice rose from conversational to fTC Baptist-raspy. "I have a dream that Harlem Park will aid the poor. I have a dream that Harlem Park will help cure the social illnesses. And I have a dream that one day every pew in this church will be full."
Shouts of "Amen!" and "Yes!" rang out.