In Florida, a United Church of Christ congregation is raising hunger awareness to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And in California, a shared ministry is hosting a performance of historic black spirituals to honor of King's dream of a beloved community where all people are treated equally.
On Sunday, Jan. 17, the East County Shared Ministry in Pittsburg, Calif., a ministry of First Congregational Church of Antioch and Community Presbyterian Church, is welcoming the Lucy Kinchen Chorale to perform the 'Negro Spiritual' during Sunday's worship celebration marking Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.
The minister of music for ECSM and Chorale member Michael Miller has been singing with the group for a few years. "The 'Negro Spiritual' is one of a few amazing forms of music borne of the inhumane treatment of a people," Miller said. "It is a music that depicts and acknowledges the pain and suffering of enslaved Africans in America, but more important, the music highlights their belief in redemption through faith and prayer. (God) delivered Daniel from the lion's den, Jonah from the belly of the whale. And the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace, so why not every man."
The Chorale was organized in 2001 by musical and artistic director, Lucy Kitchen, and held its first performance in 2002. Since then, the group has been dedicated to raising awareness and appreciation of an original American art form, the Negro Spiritual, or African American spiritual. The music, generally Christian songs sung by African slaves in the United States, reflected both Christian values and the hardships of slavery. The Chorale's repertoire includes madrigals, classical, sacred, jazz, and pop.
In Coral Gables, Fla., to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ church will seek to address the issues of hunger in Miami, which is one of the poorest large cities in the nation.
As she has each January for the last 10 years, Coral Gables pastor, the Rev. Laurie Hafner will go into the bell tower and remain there until enough food is collected to reach the church's goal to help feel hundreds of hungry families living in South Florida.
"We know there are so many hungry people, especially children, so we want to take a moment to honor Dr. King, who called us to be our better selves, but we also want to be faithful servants of all and help others out," Hafner said. "Our intent is to provide nutritious meals to families, children, those living with AIDS and HIV, and people living with mental illness.
In a bit of a twist this year, church members and community donors have the option to bring non-perishable food during the week to start, where it will be weighed and recorded toward the five-ton food goal. Items such as rice, soup, peanut butter and beans are not only heavier, helping to add to the total weight, they also provide nutrition to people and children living with food insecurity each day. The collected food items will be distributed at the church and to Feeding South Florida, one of the largest organizations providing food in the state.
Hafner plans to climb the tower on Jan. 18 and remain up there until the congregation's goal is met and the food fills a trailer in front of the church. But if enough food is collected before Monday, she may not have to sequester herself at all.
"This year, we are also commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend with a lecture series from Eden Seminary with three lectures," Hafner added. "It's a busy time, so the folks thought 'Let's try to keep your feet on the ground.'"
The first year of collections brought in more than a ton of food, and in the decade since, the congregation has met its goal every year,collecting more than 30 tons of food total, including the five tons brought in 2015. Cash donations are also accepted, with $1 counted as one pound of food. For every dollar donated, six meals are provided through Feeding South Florida.
"We already have one ton, so we are on our way," Hafner said.