Building Martin Luther King’s beloved community

MLK-File_Photo.jpgEach year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Vonney Eckman is just one of the many people invigorated by King’s dream of harmony among all people. For the last quarter century, the small Pennsylvania town of Carlisle, where Eckman lives, has celebrated the holiday in community, commemorating the civil rights leader’s work for equality and justice.

This year, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black will join the celebration of King’s legacy at First United Church of Christ.

“I think one of the things that is unique about this celebration is you have churches, colleges and the civil sector coming together in a community celebration,” Black said. “It brings together people of faith, students, professors, public servants and youth to spend the day remembering and living into the ideals of a man who died almost 50 years ago.

“This is a celebration that is community wide, ecumenical and has a long history. I’m delighted to have the chance to be part of it,” Black added.

On Sunday, Jan. 18, the 26th Annual Commemoration Service and March that honors the life of King will be held at First United. The ecumenical event brings together the Carlisle Area Religious Council with Dickinson College and Dickinson Law School, drawing a crowd of about 200 people in recent years.

“When it started, this same type of event was held in one of the black churches, and since they are small and as the community built up, it was standing-room only in these churches,” Eckman said. “So it was moved to larger churches like ours that could hold more people.”

The MLK Committee at First United helps plan the multicultural event, which begins with an invocation on the steps of the church, followed by a short march to the Cumberland County Courthouse for a celebration that features music and remarks from government leaders. Black will preach during an ecumenical worship service later that afternoon at First United, followed by a light meal with food and fellowship.

Black’s sermon will focus on moving toward what King called the “beloved community,” where racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

“The message this year, obviously, will engage the concerns that we have around issues of police violence and the accountability of police departments as they serve communities of color,” Black said. “The recent rash of deaths of African Americans at hands of police is cause for concern, and Martin Luther King Day will be an opportunity for us to both address those issues through our continuing advocacy and hope for change toward King’s beloved community.”

Committee co-chairs Charles Allen, Robin Orner and Jon Ross said the celebration is “an opportunity to gather and demonstrate support for [King’s] ideals, which are rooted in American values.”

Eckman said Black’s presence will be a “rare opportunity for many of us to hear our national leader. We are hoping many will come join us on this momentous occasion. I tell people to come, because you’ll never see another service like this.”

King preached nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to advance the civil rights of African Americans. Decades later, Eckman remains committed to King’s dream of equality for all people.

“I am invigorated [by this celebration] because it’s still going on after 26 years, and I hope it goes on,” Eckman said. “I hope the day comes when people can love each other and look past the color of their skin.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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