Howard County faith communities pause this week to honor the memory of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to reflect on his spiritual and humanitarian legacy.
"Dr. Martin Luther King was anointed, he was commissioned, he was appointed by God for the ministry of liberation," said the Rev. John L. Wright of Columbia's First Baptist Church of Guilford.
Wright noted that King rose to prominence in the 1950s while serving as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and that he built on the civil rights leadership of its prior pastor, the Rev. Vernon Johns.
"The spiritual side is that the civil rights movement is out of the church," Wright said. "There's no way [King] could survive mentally -- not just physically, but mentally -- without the power of God to impact his spirit."
Members and friends of First Baptist Church of Guilford gathered Wednesday, King's birthday, for a worship service of song, prayer and message, followed by breakfast.
Jenkins Odoms Jr., president of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urged the congregation to be "vigilant and persistent" in fighting problems of unemployment, poverty, poor education and prejudice.
"There is a lot of work still to be done in the county," said Dorothy Moore, executive director of the Community Action Council of Howard County.
Events in honor of King continue through the weekend and on Monday's federal holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Three neighboring Columbia religious communities -- Beth Shalom Congregation and Brown's Chapel and Locust United Methodist churches -- will unite tonight for their fifth annual "Martin Luther King-Abraham Joshua Heschel Interfaith Service." Heschel's birthday was Jan. 11.
"Rabbi Heschel and Reverend King were allies and good friends," said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom. "Heschel marched with King in a number of places. Both of them believed that people could work together, and [they] envisioned a society in which every human being is a child of God and therefore deserves care and compassion and equal opportunity.
"In the Jewish community, as in the African-American community, we see King as one of the prophets of that biblical message," she said.
Mount Pisgah AME Church in Columbia will hold a "Service of Remembering" on Sunday, with "songs of remembering" and comments by residents who took part in the early civil rights movement.
"[King] moved us back toward conservative principles of loving your neighbor as yourself and remembering that each of us happen to be God's children," said Mount Pisgah's pastor, the Rev. Donald L. Smedley. "If we took those principles today and used them, the world would be better off."
St. John Baptist Church will also focus on King's legacy during its Sunday worship services, said its pastor, the Rev. Robert A.F. Turner. The sermon and message for youths will highlight King's life and ministry, and young people will recite selections from King's speeches.
Howard County's 18th tribute to King on Sunday evening will include prayers by the Rev. Timothy Oh, pastor of the New Life Church of Philippi, a primarily Korean congregation in Columbia, and by the Rev. Richard Nugent, pastor of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. The choir of Columbia's St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church will sing.
A sampling of Howard County events honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, all in Columbia: King-Heschel interfaith service at Beth Shalom Congregation, at 8 tonight; St. John Baptist Church worship services, at 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sunday; 18th Howard County tribute to King at Long Reach High School auditorium, at 4 p.m. Sunday; Mount Pisgah AME Church, Service of Remembering, at 10 a.m. Monday; Howard County Center of African-American Culture, displays and movie on King's life, from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays until Jan. 31.