Religious leaders delivered a message of resilience at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church on Sunday afternoon, urging congregants to continue pursuing the vision of the late civil rights leader.
More than two-dozen people attended the service, an annual tradition for more than 30 years, joining together in song and prayer. Speakers said that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and example are particularly relevant today though, as the nation continues to confront poverty, war, and rising bigotry.
Rev. Kathleen Edwards of St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church said King continues to inspire millions today through his example of civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, patience and persistence to “rise above themselves and to realize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“He taught us we do not have the privilege to be indifferent to the suffering and persecution of our brothers and sisters, [God’s] sons and daughters,” Edwards said.
Rev. Natalie Wimberly, a senior pastor of Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Greenport and a guest speaker, said that congregants would be “mistaken” if they thought King’s dream of freedom, equality and justice for all had come to fruition.
The list of issues is long, she said: housing, healthcare accessibility, people living below poverty, militarism, failed immigration policy, violence, and police and communities being at odds – to name a few.
“But I think Dr. King would tell us that we may be far from the dream becoming a reality, but he would tell us it’s not an impossibility. It can still be done,” Wimberly said. “It can still be accomplished.”
“It would be accomplished doing what he calls to in his famous speech the American Dream,” Wimberly continued, “if we agree to be maladjusted.”
Rabbi Michael Klayman, Great Neck Clergy Association president and senior rabbi of Lake Success Jewish Center, recalled Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel’s introduction of King during the 68th Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of America in 1968.
In that introduction, Herschel had described an America with “districts of despair” living in the shadows of affluent cities. He then described King as “a sign that God has not forsaken the United States” and the “hope of America.”
Klayman said he thought about Herschel’s words as assaults against Jewish people have risen.
“And I thought about the passionate and irrepressible voice of Dr. King, who would be speaking out against the evils of anti-Semitism just as he spoke about the evils of racism, poverty, and indifference,” Klayman said.
“And I miss the era that together these two remarkable people, an African American reverend and a rabbi from Eastern Europe, reminded our nation that pursuing justice, equality and dignity demanded actions beyond mere words.”
Rev. Natalie Fenimore, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, said many people’s lives have been “scarred” by forces like racism, anti-Semitism, poverty, homelessness, need and want.
But, Fenimore said, the walls dividing people are “artificial” and the “strength of God can break them all down.”
“We know that deep within us, if we stand together in love, we can eradicate these evil things which cause us pain and suffering,” Fenimore said in delivering a prayer for unity.
Rabbi Robert Widom of Temple Emanuel said King was a model, having given his life and voice to the pursuit of justice and love. Now the nation faces a rising tide of extremism and bigotry, he said, and people must “work beyond the words and stand up to it all.”
“We may be few in number, but we have in us the strength to push back the walls of darkness,” Widom said. “That’s a task for each and every one of us.”