There was nothing but soul inside First Christian Church Sunday evening.
The moment when the special service dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. began, everyone in the congregation rose on their feet and jubliantly sang a hymn with an infectious groove.
You could say the energy was palpable that evening at the Blue Springs church. Even the Rev. Cliff Caton of First Christian Church remarked that everyone had “heated it up quick and they already turned the fans on” despite the cold January night.
The 10th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day ecumenical celebration service was held at First Christian Church, and this year’s theme was “Hero of Faith.” This was the sixth year the church has hosted the exclusive King celebration in Blue Springs, along with six other churches in the Kansas City metropolitan area: Capernaum Baptist Church, Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Grace Unlimited Baptist Church, Heartland Church and Holy Hill Baptist Church.
“We are here tonight to form the solid rock of brotherhood,” said the Rev. A.L. Johnson of Grace Unlimited Church during the welcome portion of the service. “Our destiny and our white brothers’ destiny are tied together.”
The service consisted of many sermons by area pastors, a greeting by Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross, and interspersed choral selections from both the Community Mass and Second Baptist Choirs.
“I recently had the honor of meeting Georgia Congressman Andrew Young, who supported Dr. King and was his friend, last week at Burns & McDonnell headquarters,” Ross told the crowd. He later spoke about the plights of civil rights heroes, such as Nelson Mandela, by the numbers.
“Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years, but lived to be 95 years old. Dr. King only lived for 39 years due to being assassinated by hate. But there was one individual who was only 33 years old that had a tremendous impact on Dr. King. I think his name was Jesus.” Loud applause immediately followed.
Ross also said there was “no question” when asked if his political career was influenced by either Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.
“I grew up in Arkansas at a time when it was segregated. They (King and Mandela) taught me a lot about determination, perserverance and to go forward despite adversity.”
He also noted a famous line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that really resonates with him to this day. “The part where King said, ‘where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character’ still applies to me. I hope people judge me as a man and my actions rather than by my skin color.”
This year’s featured speaker was the Rev. Dr. Vernon Percy Howard Jr. of Second Baptist Church in Kansas City, whose main theme about King in his speech was that he was a Biblical prophet among the ranks of Moses in the Old Testament and Jesus of Nazareth. He particularly referenced Luke 4:18 of the New Testament.
“Prophets are put where God needs them,” Howard passionately said to the congregation. He cited the coincidental timing of King becoming a pastor at Dexter Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., when he was just 25 years old and Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to give up her front seat on the bus a year later. The significant turning point in American history caused the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was eventually led by King.
“It was right on time. God set that prophet. Rosa stood up by sitting down,” he continued with fervor. “She was not planted by the NAACP or any other organization, but none other than her personal dignity.” He also said that heroes eventually die, but prophets are the ones who continue to challenge us and question our dark side.
Howard’s sermon not only concentrated on the civil rights efforts of Dr. King, but also his desire to have equal economic opportunity as mentioned during a speech that he made in 1968. He spoke of three major tenets from King’s particular speech.
“One, King sought full employment for all who desired to work. Two, he wanted a guaranteed income for those workers that would be tied to the median income of the nation. And three, he was talking about the gap between the rich and the poor and wanted to start a poor people’s campaign.”
Howard also said King’s later challenges to these economic injustices may have been a part of why he was assassinated, rather than only his being a champion of civil rights.
“We prefer to shake our martinis instead of shaking the system.” Howard also cited the importance of non-violent forms of protests and demonstration King learned from his own heroes: Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ. “Hate cannot outdrive hate, but only love.”
Howard said today’s generation must start making a world proposed by King consisting of racial harmony, justice and opportunity a reality. “Listen to ‘I Have a Dream” and refrain from making it a fantasy.” He said despite progress, there is still a substantial amount of inequality and injustice in 2014.
“There is no job for the youth other than making good grades. Keep it at 100 percent.”
The theme of unity was prevalent throughout the two-hour celebration, and this quote succinctly summarized the night:
“You don’t look like me, but I love you anyway,” said the Rev. V.A. Strong of Capernaum Baptist Church. “We need to sit next to one another in order to get to know each other.”