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Presiding Bishop tells King celebration 'love with abandon'
Bronx service revisits dream of civil rights leader

By Daphne Mack

Photo by Kara Flannery
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeffers Schori preaching at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, in the Bronx, New York, on January 15, the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.   (Photo by Kara Flannery)

Photo by Kara Flannery
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori serving communion at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, in the Bronx, New York, on January 15, the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.    (Photo by Kara Flannery)

Photo by Kara Flannery
Congregation at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, in the Bronx, New York, joined hands singing "We Shall Overcome" on January 15, the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.    (Photo by Kara Flannery)

[Episcopal News Service]  Evidence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream at work was found at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, New York, at the annual January 15 celebration of King's feast day and national holiday.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori served as celebrant and preacher making this her first official service in the Diocese of New York. It marked the the 21st anniversary of the national holiday and would have been King's 78th birthday.

Jefferts Schori, speaking in both English and Spanish, told the standing-room only crowd that nearly 40 years after King's death "we still have not fully achieved that dream."

"Some still live in oppression because of the color of their skin. Some still live in oppression because of their national origin and heritage," she said. "Some have arrived on these shores to work because we want their labor, but they live in oppression because we are not willing to allow them to become free and equal citizens."

Jefferts Schori said that the gospel "is about the love God has for all of us" and that "week by week, we promise to show that love to the world by the way we live and act."

"Dr. King was a powerful witness to the ability of love to change the world – that radically non-violent form of gospel love," she said. "It means loving yourself and recognizing the image of God in yourself, and then doing the same with others."

She acknowledged that "non-violent loving is not necessarily easy" but said "it can change the world."

"Dr. King taught people to live in a way that says, 'even if you disregard me, I am a full human being and your equal.' It led to taking a seat at lunch counters and on buses.  Sometimes that assertion drew a violent response, like the fire hoses that were used on peaceful demonstrators," said Jefferts Schori. "But that out-of-proportion response began to change public opinion, and began to change the system that permitted oppression to continue."

She also spoke of giving to everyone who begs from you and lending, expecting nothing in return "because none of what we have is really ours – it belongs to God and we are only stewards."

She said when King's house was bombed, he began to understand that his life would probably be forfeit, but he continued to love nonetheless.

Jefferts Schori went on to recall the recent act of bravery of Wesley Autry, a New Yorker who saved the life of a stranger, who had fallen onto the subway tracks, by lying on top of him just before a train approached.

"You and I can love with abandon, we can keep on loving folks who disagree with us or hate us, and we can change the world," she said. "Dr. King offered a life lived with that kind of freedom. His dream began in setting his own people free. His dream continued to enlarge, to setting free those in poverty, those who suffered under systems of injustice, those who were sent to war and those who were warred upon."

Jefferts Schori said "as long as anyone is in bondage, none of us will ever be free."

"God asks us to dream dreams, love the unlovable, and have mercy on the merciless.  When we do, we will join Martin in worshipping God on the mountaintop," she said.

Peaceful idealist

Bishop Don E. Taylor of the Diocese of New York brought greetings on behalf of Bishop Mark S. Sisk of the Diocese of New York reiterating the appreciation of Jefferts Schori’s presence at the celebration and assuring her of their continued prayers for her leadership of the church.

The Rev. Martha Overall, bishop's vicar of St. Ann's, thanked Jefferts Schori not only for her presence but also for her "inspired words of inspiration."

This year's King holiday is the first since the death of Coretta Scott King, King's widow who died January 31 at age 78. She fought to shape and preserve her husband's legacy with the founding of what would become the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, in Atlanta, Georgia.

She said that the realization that King's words, 40 years later, are still applicable today is "unfortunate" and the question becomes "where is the outrage at the discrimination that continues?"

"Martin Luther King predicted it himself when he said where you have blood and violence and the body of an Emmett Till a lot of people will be outraged and then take action but when discrimination is more subtle and not as bloody, a lot of people will fall away," she said. "Now we have struggles with education and the schools, and we have a war in Iraq that echoes in many ways with the Vietnam War that Dr. King protested."

Till, a teenager, was killed in August 1955 after he whistled at a white women in Money, Mississippi.

Also a part of the service was music and the recitation of excerpts from King's 1967 book, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?"

"This was an important day because it is a chance to hear from our new presiding bishop, and celebrate the life of Dr. King. I was inspired by her message," said Cassandra Reid, wife of the rector of St. Luke's Church, in the Bronx.

Dillard Harris, 12, a member of St. Margaret's, in the Bronx, said the feast day is important "because I look up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

"He was a very peaceful idealist," he said.

"We hope people have left here with an understanding of what a great and inspired leader Dr. King was, a greater understanding of the Christ within prophetic leaders and hopefully a greater inspiration of the Christ within themselves," said Overall.

Each year, the 23 parishes in the three (East, Northwest and South) Bronx Interparish Councils (IPC) gather together to give thanks for the life and ministry of King. These congregations reflect the diversity and energy of the area worshiping in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. This year's service was hosted by the South Bronx IPC.

The Bronx service was one of several major regional observances held January 15 in cities across the Episcopal Church.

St. Ann's Church is a historic landmark. It was built in 1841 and is the oldest continually used church building in the Bronx. It is also the burial place of Gouverneur Morris, who crafted the wording of the United States Constitution, his wife Ann Cary Randolph Morris, a direct descendant of the Native American princess Pocahontas, and Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

[For the complete text of the Presiding Bishop's sermon click here.]