Wilmington was busy this weekend celebrating the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The festivities included a gospel concert, a night at the theatre, a banquet, a breakfast, a kids’ day at the park, an oyster roast, and a parade.
Each event was a community celebration, but the ecumenical service sponsored by our Port City’s Ministerial Round Table on Sunday (January 20) at St. Stephen A.M.E Church, not only brought the community together, black and white, rich and poor, it gathered our diverse communities of faith.
It was an hour to set aside doctrine and dogma and amalgamate under the vision of unity, freedom and love as preached by King.
The Ministerial Round Table’s statement of purpose is: “…to encourage one another to engage our congregations in the struggle against racism and to be faithful participants in the racial healing we believe God is carrying out in our nation.” Each member of the Round Table made up of Christian, Jewish, and Islam faiths participated in the service.
The Rev. Richard G. Elliot, rector of St. Andrews-On-The-Sound Episcopal Church and former moderator of the Roundtable, delivered the sermon. Elliot began his message with King’s favorite hymn, and the congregation joined him as he sang:
“Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on,
Let me stand
I'm tired, I am weak I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”
The reverend reflected on the life and suffering of King during his 12 years of ministry. King had simply wanted to become a seminary professor, but God had chosen him to do much more than teach quietly in a classroom. God had called King to change a country. Elliot proclaimed, “At the end of Dr. King’s life, a nation was called to righteousness.”
He explained that King taught with the Bible in one hand and the U.S. Constitution in the other, and he said: “We must find the truth in both.” He proclaimed: “America has lost its conscience.”
The Episcopal minister decreed that the voices speaking out today are ones of anger and resentment that evoke fear, but we are called to peace and love. He encouraged the congregation to become involved in our local and state governments and to be voices speaking what our hearts are telling us.
“Become someone else’s conscience” he continued. “Write letters and more letters until you are no longer just a conscience but a person they know.”
Elliot's message, the historical architecture of St. Stephen, and the enthusiasm of the gospel choir ushered the congregants back into another day and time.
It was as if the sweet smell of history rose in the air as the late afternoon sun danced lazily through the large stain glass windows and black and white, young and old believers came together to remember the dream of one man who was a voice in the wilderness pointing the way to freedom, love, and justice.
A voice though silenced years ago is very much alive today.