'Let Flagstaff lead the nation in peace ...'
Sun Staff Reporter
More than 200 people of every age, race and religion tucked into the First Missionary Baptist Church on Southside to sit close and remember the civil rights leader's legacy.
Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Buddhist, Episcopalian, Baha'i, Hopi, Jew -- they came together to renew King's plea to give peace a chance in this world.
Near the back of the room, a young white man wearing a yarmulke held a black child in his lap. Mature black women in their Sunday best sat next to white women with toddlers and college students in gym tights and T-shirts.
The mood at the celebration was high energy, complete with hand-clapping hymns, swaying parishioners, arms raised high to the sky and fervent prayers for peace and the averting of war. Representatives of a dozen faiths spoke, their words made more poignant by the looming possibility of war with Iraq.
The 3-month-old Interfaith Community of Flagstaff (IFC) coordinated the service. The group was formed locally to promote peace and nonviolence. Many attendees signed an ICF peace pledge petition in the lobby, and the offertory at the end of the service was donated to the group's cause.
"We are today, in this church, living the dream Dr. King laid before us," said ICF Coordinator Kell Kearns. "We need to remember that Dr. King was murdered not for dreaming, but for the struggle to bring in a world where everyone is part of a beloved community."
Kearns said that King warned that the time had come in human history to obliterate war before we destroy ourselves in an unspeakable conflagration. Just as King said that bombs in Vietnam explode at home, Kearns said bombs in Iraq today will also explode at home, "destroying hopes and possibilities for a decent America."
"Let Flagstaff lead the nation in peace," he said.
The audience applauded at every anti-war sentiment.
Coconino County Supervisor Liz Archuleta told the congregation that Hispanics had also had to fight for their human rights.
"The Hispanic community, like our black brothers and sisters, looked forward to the day they would be judged by their character, not by the color of their skin."
She said older relatives told her Hispanics used to have to sit upstairs at the old Orpheum Theater and that there were "No Mexicans" signs in some restaurants.
Hopi artist and jeweler Michael Kabotie said he interprets King's legacy through the eyes of Hopi legend and myth, and that King's words had stood the test of time.
"He's like a tremendous jeweler," he said. "We had to test its strength and properties. We torch it. We hammer it, to come out with a piece of jewelry."
Kabotie said that Hopi teachings say that the lives of great men like King "help us find the middle path, to find the healing that we need."
Catholic Sister Elizabeth Carey said that the prospect of war, looming heavily with unpredictable consequences, was making people anxious and depressed.
"We too can call on the Lord to avert the threat of war," she said, and to make, in King's vision, this old world a new world.
The keynote speaker was The Rev. Joseph Harris Jr., the charismatic pastor at the First Missionary Baptist Church. Growing up in Alabama, he was raised on King's message. He said he was in high school before he was able to go to school with people of a different color.
Harris said he was elated to have an opportunity to speak to such a diverse group. He also had an anti-war message.
"I might not live to see a world fully eradicated of hate, but still, I can make a difference," he told the audience. "War destroys homes. War destroys neighbors. War destroys people. It destroys the basis of this nation ... to work together."
He reminded the congregation that we are our brother's keeper, and that "it's time to live beyond the dream -- to lift each other up in love."
Harris said the word "religion" can serve to divide people.
"Monday, we sit at the same table, eat the same food, work side-by-side, but on Sunday we somehow deny the very principles that Dr. King stood for: unity."
Organizers are hoping to make the community all-faiths service an annual event to honor King.
©Copyright 2003, Arizona Daily Sun (AZ, USA)
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