Times are different, but King’s words are still appropriate



CHARLESTON – A joyful noise could be heard coming from the confines of Nativity Parish Monday night.

The church’s fifth annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ecumenical prayer service for unity Jan. 21 raised the rafters with songs by the Lucas Sisters from Charity Baptist Church at Liberty Hill and the guest choir from James Island United Congregational Church, along with the Nativity choir.

Those performances helped set the tone for the guest speaker, the Rev. H. Sam Johnson, pastor of Hibben United Methodist Church in Mount Pleasant, and he kept that festive mood alive among the 200 or so listeners.

“We’ve come to a most fitting place to say thanks be to God,” said Rev. Johnson, a native Charlestonian whose ministry spans 30 years. “We’ve got a lot of things we can be thankful for. We no longer have separate schools. We have at least some people around the table. We say thanks be to God that things are not like they used to be. But we still have a long way to travel along that road.”

The pastor explained that Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement for civil rights was based entirely on Scripture. “He was calling America to begin to practice what we preach,” he said. “We need to be reminded that unless we affirm all of God’s children, we put ourselves at peril. There is much to be done in our communities.”

Rev. Johnson said King’s teachings call everyone to a common understanding of the holy Scriptures. “It is necessary for us to bring others to the worship of God. The abundant life is bigger than we are. Some of us have to sacrifice. I sometimes think the churches are quiet in our communities. They don’t want to trouble the waters. But to struggle for freedom we have got to carry the cross. You’ve got to love people where they are. God wants more of us to be his witnesses.

“If Martin were here today,” the Methodist minister added, “I think he’d say that we’ve come a little ways and gotten comfortable,” which prompted shouts of amen.

“Unless we are able to bring our sisters and brothers along with us, we’re not going anywhere,” Rev. Johnson said. “We’ve got two choices: Either reach down and give someone a helping hand or shove them aside and wait for them to get us on the other side.”

He concluded with a quote from King, “Martin said injustice in one place threatens our justice every place,” and while walking back to his chair remarked, “We’ve still got to sing that old song, ‘We shall overcome.'”

The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

The service also featured Scripture readings by Ruth Seabrook of St. James Presbyterian Church, prayers of intercession from James Daugomah of Nativity, and a children’s reflection titled “I Hold in My Hand a Dream.” Youths discussed the life of Martin Luther King and the impact his legacy still carries today. Their segment ended with the playing of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

For the recessional hymn, “We Shall Overcome” was sung with the congregation holding hands and swaying to the stanzas. A reception followed in the Nativity School building.

Franciscan Sister Noreen Buttimer, pastoral associate at Nativity and presider at the event, described the fifth King Day gathering as “the best one we’ve had.”