By Rick Wolcott*
Clergy and laity gathered at Aldersgate United Methodist Church (North Coast District) on Monday, January 15 to remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It’s appropriate that we recognize Dr. King today because the things that he fought for and died for are under attack. The dream that he had, that all of God’s children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character, that dream is under attack,” said the Rev. Dogba Bass of Aldersgate UMC. “Will we be men and women of courage like Dr. King? In our day and in our time we can’t recreate his day, but this is our day, this is our time. What will history say about us? We cannot afford to let the dream die. That is why we have called you here today.”
Powerful prayer, passionate singing, emotional liturgical dances, and heartfelt words filled the sanctuary. None more poignant than those shared by Tracy Bass and third-grader Alexandra Grant, who recited the “I have a dream” speech that King gave August 28, 1963 as part of the March on Washington.
“That one experience shaped my thinking,” said Lena Nance of the impact participating in the March had on launching her life-long journey to learn more about her heritage.
“It may surprise you as a middle-aged white person for me to confess to you that the civil rights movement has made my life immensely better, enormously better. I think now about the teachers and the colleagues and the friends that I wouldn’t have been allowed to have,” North Coast District Superintendent the Rev. Dr. Steve Bailey said in his remarks.
“As someone who has lived through the civil rights era I am so grateful that courageous people black, and white, and Hispanic, and Asian and many other ethnicities said that we will not be divided by evil or mistrust. We will not look at each other as competitors or enemies, but as brothers and sisters,” he continued. “And that’s a mission that could be launched out of a political movement, but Dr. King launched that out of his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that racism is not an attitude that’s a political opinion, racism is an evil to be deplored and if the church isn’t standing up against racism we have compromised our mission entirely.”
“I am convinced that if we want to pay tribute to Dr. King for having a dream, if we want to galvanize the nation to continue to strive toward ongoing freedom and equality, we can keep having these wonderful celebrations – and they are good,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone. “But if we want to keep the dream alive and commit to the work and the vision of King we have to face our current realities of our times and admit that we have a societal problem, and we’re part of the societal problem because we have become silent.”
In her keynote address, the bishop implored those gathered to take action.
“It is time for the Church to rise up and be her best self. We are the moral conscience for society but we must take our rightful place. It’s time to shift from just dreaming and remembering, and commemorating. Let us organize. Let us mobilize. This transcends race, and gender, and class, but anyone who cares about the cause of justice, the cause of equality, the cause of peace, it is time. Repeat after me, ‘I will not let the dream die on my watch.’”
“When God calls you, God can call you from anywhere,” Bailey said. “You don’t have to start from a big movement, you simply have to start. You have to speak. You have to move forward, and you have to invite people to join you.”
Click on the video to see Bishop Malone’s keynote address in its entirety.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.