St. Paul AME Zion Church packed for MLK service

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Choirs sang uplifting songs like
Choirs sang uplifting songs like "We Shall Overcome" for attendees at the Martin Luther King Jr. event at St. Paul AME Zion Church. (Photo by Bob Wong)

People from throughout the North Shore and Long Island attended St. Paul AME Zion Church’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. service last Sunday, with nearly every seat filled in the small church.

The event, featuring guests the Great Neck Clergy Association and hosted by the Rev. Kathleen N. Edwards, has been a tradition for many decades. But this year’s ceremony, filled with uplifting song and a sense of unity, drew more than usual.

“It was like when Reverend [William] Jiles was pastor with how crowded it was,” said Julia Shields, the head of the church’s board of trustees, referring to the church’s spiritual leader from 1974 to 2006.

Debbie Tartell led the Great Neck-based Shireinu Choir of Long Island in song, while Rachel Blackburn directed the Hempstead Select Chorale and Voices of Virtue, a nonprofit organization catering to young underserved musicians.

Among the participants were Rabbi Daniel Schweber of Temple Israel, Rabbi Michael Klayman of Lake Success Jewish Center, Rabbi Robert S. Widom of Temple Emanuel of Great Neck and Brother Erik Larson of the Brahma Kumaris Harmony House in Great Neck Plaza.

The Rev. James A. Furman of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Port Washington, who was the guest speaker, talked about the power of faith to help him overcome obstacles and that it should serve as a catalyst for action.

Rabbi Klayman, the head of the Great Neck Clergy Association, said Furman’s words and the ceremony as a whole were uplifting.

Seeing  people from throughout the area come together was also an encouraging first step towards the pursuit of equality and understanding, he said, especially for a diverse place like Great Neck.

“My dream is that the message of Dr. King will actually one day be realized – and it’s not been realized,” Klayman, who grew up in the 1960s, said. “There’s a lot to do. But I think everyone, regardless of where we’re from, we should be proud of our background.”

Photos by Bob Wong

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that the Great Neck Clergy Association sponsored the event. This year, St. Paul AME Zion sponsored the event, which was hosted by Rev. Kathleen Edwards.

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