Churches, communities to honor MLK this weekend

By John W. Coleman

A new national record may be set this weekend when more than 150,000 expected volunteers go into action during the 23rd Annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend and Day of Service. Many United Methodists are likely to be among them not only volunteering, but also attending and even hosting a variety of special events to honor America’s most renowned civil rights leader.

Every year, many cities and towns around the nation honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the national holiday that celebrates his birthday—always the third Monday in January—with a day of service to help individuals, schools, human service agencies, churches and communities. The City of Brotherly Love’s busy Day of Service is annually the largest King Holiday event in the country. In 2016 reportedly, more than 140,000 volunteers participated in over 1,800 service projects.

Adding to the outpouring of volunteer service across Philadelphia’s metro area are always a number of weekend special events planned each year to recognize King’s faith-inspired influence on America’s ongoing quest for racial justice and peaceful nonviolence.

An array of museums and the National Constitution Center will feature special themed exhibits for free or reduced-cost admission. The Philadelphia Orchestra will offer a special concert, also for free. The Eastern State Penitentiary holds annual special readings of King’s seminal “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

No doubt some congregations will remember Dr. King’s challenge to the faith community to lead the society in advocating for human and civil rights. While many will celebrate our denomination’s Human Relations Day on Sunday, Jan. 14, some will also celebrate King’s message and ministry by focusing on racial justice and reconciliation that day.

St. Matthew’s UMC Valley Forge (600 Walker Road, Wayne, PA) will host a son of the Eastern PA Conference, Bishop Alfred Johnson (retired), as its guest preacher for both services, at 8:30 and 10:45 AM. He will then lead members and guests in a discussion of Race and Human Relations over lunch at 12 PM.

Bishop Johnson served in this conference before being elected a bishop and assigned to lead the Greater New Jersey Area in 1996. After retiring in 2004, he served several prominent churches in New York and San Francisco. He now directs New York Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study and Practice of Urban Religion.

First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG–6001 Germantown Avenue) will host the Rev. Emilie Townes, Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and a distinguished religious scholar and leader in theological education. Formerly Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School, she is President of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and of the American Academy of Religion. The American Baptist clergywoman and author is doing research on women and health in the African diaspora in Brazil and the United States.

Dr. Townes will dialogue with church and community members on Saturday evening, Jan. 13, at 7 PM. On Sunday, Jan. 14, she will speak to the church’s Adult Academy at 9:45 AM and then preach at the 11 Am worship service. During the service the church will announce the recipient of its 2018 annual Social and Racial Justice Award.

Some churches will participate in other local events to commemorate King’s life and legacy. Members of UM Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square participate annually in the community’s Martin Luther King Jr. CommUNITY Breakfast.  This year’s 17th annual program, on Jan. 15, 8 to 10 AM, will feature Bishop Dwayne Royster, Political Director of People Improving Communities through Organization (PICO), who will reflect on Dr. King as he addresses the theme “Social Justice through the Power of Compassion.” Royster previously headed POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild), affiliated with PICO’s national grassroots organization.

The breakfast, which typically draws a large attendance, including business, faith and community leaders, raises funds for scholarships, local food pantries, summer camp for disadvantaged children, and projects that promote equality, justice, peace and the eradication of poverty.

Further north, the Lehigh Conference of Churches, which includes UM churches in the area, will welcome local leaders and people of all faiths to a Jan. 15 MLK Jr. interfaith prayer service and breakfast honoring King’s the life and service. Allentown Schools Superintendent Thomas Parker will discuss efforts to end the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” at the Dubbs Memorial Community Center, 457 W. Allen St., Allentown, 9 to 11 AM. The Rev. Larry Pickens is the LCC’s ecumenical director.

How will you celebrate Dr. King’s birthday?

How will your church celebrate our nation’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend? Will you feature a special speaker or discussion or fellowship event? Or celebrate with music, poetry, storytelling or art?  Maybe present a special exhibit, display, film or video? Or will you join other churches or neighbors in your community in a Day of Service project to help others, or in a public march or rally to advocate for peace and justice, or in a joint celebration?

Whatever you plan to do—or even if you don’t have anything planned—why not republish Bishop Peggy Johnson’s new Bishop’s Blog essay, “Arrested but Undeterred,” in your church bulletin or newsletter. Encourage members to read it and pass it on to others. (No permission required.)

And whatever you plan to do, please let us know about it by this Thursday, Jan. 10, (no later) so we can add it to this news story on Friday.  Send your information to Thanks!

Brown honored for supporting MLK Day of Service

(From right) Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney presents the 20th annual Harris Wofford Active Citizenship Award to the Rev. David Brown, for his “years of steadfast support of the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service and lifelong dedication and commitment to public service and civic engagement.” Todd Bernstein, founder and director of the annual Day of Service, applauds the award. Brown, a deacon serving part-time on-staff at Wharton-Wesley UMC in Philadelphia, is an assistant professor in Media and Communications at Temple University.