King Legacy Draws Diverse Group

January 18, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Over tables laden with savory suppers, Daniel Green and his parents joined the congregations of several churches in a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.

During the interfaith celebration at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg, the 14-year-old African-American summed up reasons for turning his attention to Dr. King.

"Dr. King paved the way for a lot of African-Americans to have success in this country," Daniel said. "We must keep on the path of Martin Luther King."

Nearly 200 participants shared meals, memories and the message of Dr. King's legacy.

"When events like this address racial issues, racism is destroyed," said Daniel, of Mount Airy.

Nearly everyone arrived carrying a contribution to the potluck supper.

They were promptly separated from their dishes and their companions.

"We made a deliberate attempt to separate groups and get everyone to mingle," said Edna Johnson, who helped organize the event. "The purpose of the program was to get conversation going among people who didn't know each other."

At each table, people of different faiths shook hands and introduced themselves before sitting down to dinner courses that were as varied as the backgrounds of the celebrants.

Daniel, seated next to the Rev. Paul Fitzpatrick of St. Joseph, spoke of marching bands, music and football with the priest, a former high school teacher.

Daniel is a freshman at Glenelg High School.

"We should begin building relationships with each other," said Brother Rick Connor, pastoral associate at St. Joseph. "As we worship together, we might bump into a neighbor."

At meal's end, the combined choirs of St. Luke and Mount Gregory United Methodist churches sang, "We Shall Overcome." The audience stood in deference to the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

People stretched their arms and locked hands across the tables, forming a human chain around the parish hall. Many swayed gently and joined the chorus with strong voices.

"We desperately need to learn pacifism and nonviolence," said Brother Connor. "Dr. King's example helps us to think about that."

In a brief speech to the group, the Rev. Douglas B. Sands echoed Dr. King's words: "It's either nonviolence or nonexistence. Each of us must do our part to promote nonviolence."

Mr. Sands, pastor of Martin Luther King Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore, urged the audience to "explore what Martin left us" and read Dr. King's writings.

"His was a prophetic voice," Mr. Sands said.

Leaders of several South Carroll and Howard County congregations organized the service.

"I had a good feeling about this from the first meeting we had to organize it," Ms. Johnson said.

The message printed across her shirt -- "We are all children of God" -- reiterated the evening's theme.

Denise Barker called the dinner "an effort to promote brotherhood in our community. It's something we have needed for a long time."

A member of the St. Joseph parish, Ms. Barker said she hoped for similar events in the future.

Ms. Johnson, of St. Luke United Methodist in Sykesville, mingled with the crowd, encouraging everyone to sample food from nearly 100 dishes on the tables in the parish hall.

When she spoke at a similar ecumenical celebration Friday at Beth Shalom synagogue in Taylorsville, she invited that congregation to St. Joseph.

Rabbi Seymour Essrog, leader of Beth Shalom, accompanied several members of his congregation "to this celebration of joy."

"It is important for us to be out in the community, not off by ourselves," said the rabbi. "We share the same passion for social justice as many here. Our common history is marked with the same experience."

Ms. Johnson distributed sheet music to allow everyone to join the several choirs that performed. When a group from Springfield Presbyterian sang, "Here I Am, Lord," many softly intoned the refrain.

"That is in our hymnal and the United Methodist one, too," said the Rev. Ted Cassidy, pastor of St. Joseph.

Mr. Sands said he would like to see similar events repeated in many communities.

"This was a beautiful gathering," he said. "I think Martin Luther King would have liked to be here."

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