I confess. I’m a King idolater.
That’s one reason my wife Toni and I joined 150 or so citizens to march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge downtown to First Presbyterian Church for a service.
The old church’s sanctuary has always made me want to bow my head and be silent. Maybe it’s the mood the blue, red and amber stained glass windows creates.
I wouldn’t miss such a service as the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination approaches. I always meet old friends from our city’s civil rights struggles. Our district councilman, Jeff Paddock, greeted us. As did the county sheriff and police chief.
As we settled into our pews, the senior pastor of First Pres, Jeff Lehn, welcomed everybody.
Then, one of my favorite preachers, The Rev. Bill McGill, read Dr. King’s “I”ve been to the mountaintop” speech. That’s the one he delivered just hours before he was assassinated. I thought to myself this is as good as it gets for a King memorial service.
But then it got even better.
The guest speaker was The Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta. I can’t say I recall the name. But this white-haired gentleman had marched along side Dr. King during the great civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s and 1960s.
I noticed that he carried a sheet of paper to the pulpit, which was the same pulpit that Dr. King spoke from when he visited Fort Wayne in 1963. But if this sheet of paper was his sermon, he sure didn’t need it. Rev. Vivian looked at the congregation the entire time he spoke, never once glancing at his text. (If that’s what he carried to the pulpit.)
It was the kind of delivery I prefer. Not preachy. It was more of a conversation this elder statesman of the movement was having with his people. He recalled the marches, the abuse by police and some ordinary citizens. He remarked on King’s eloquence. “I never got tired of hearing him, again and again” Vivian said.
Events here and nationwide this season properly commemorate the life and ministry of this extraordinary person. I was in a graduate class at the University of Cincinnati the evening Dr. King was shot. Before the class started, a fellow student, a young woman, made an insensitive, uncaring remark. I turned away in my seat.
We’ve traveled a long road toward racial justice since then. But as Rev. Vivian reminded us in his quietly eloquent manner, we’re not there yet. Dr. King said it in Memphis, “I may not get there with you, but I have seen the promised land…”
Every year, at such memorial services, we get another glimpse. I would’t miss it.