“Let us pray gracious God, we thank you for allowing us to be here tonight to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. We are excited Lord, oh God, that you have sent us for this task,” the Rev. Kymberley Clemons-Jones said, in an opening prayer Monday night at Valley Stream Presbyterian Church for its Martin Luther King Jr. Day service. “Now let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Lord … let the church say.”
Then two dozen members of the congregation raised their bowed heads in what seemed like perfect unison, and said together, “Amen.”
In light of the holiday, the church held a celebration service to commemorate King and recognize his pacifistic approach to advocating equality for African Americans. The service also gave church members and people from neighboring communities the chance to worship and give thanks to God.
Additionally there were performances by the Valley Stream Community Choir and members of the worship team at the Powerhouse Church of God in Christ in Merrick.
In addition to musical guests, the group honored James Hodge, chairman of the MLK Center in Long Beach MLK Center for his advocacy work and among many speeches, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky delivered an address, which focused on King’s idea that no journey is achieved without rough patches.
“Right now in our country, I see people in different corners pointing fingers at each other,” he said. “I see people saying, ‘It’s their fault, them, those people…’ and I say if Dr. King were here today, he would say this is not where I hoped that we would be on our best days.”
As the service came to an end, scriptures from the New International Version of the Holy Bible were read and Clemons-Jones gave a sermon titled, “Will you be affluent or an influence?” in which she encouraged others to not remain stagnant by keeping life-blessings to oneself, but instead to give back to the poor and less fortunate.
“We can choose to share what we have … for the purpose of encouraging someone who is sick or in trouble … or we can choose to use all of those blessings for ourselves,” she said. “The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that ‘… the time has come for an all out war against poverty … the well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst.’”
Many of the attendees at the service found that the sermon resonated well with them.
“Rev. Jones’ sermon reminded me that every gift that we have is a gift from God and it’s important to share those gifts to make a difference,” congregant Terrence Wilburg said. “I enjoyed the entire service because it reminded me that we are where we are because of the work of others before us and we need to keep working towards equality.”
Wilburg also said the service reminded him that nonviolence can lead to improvement towards justice.
“Sometimes we are tempted to be violent, but I have seen first hand, that violence keeps us from moving forward,” he said. “We should never look at a situation like, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ but we should instead follow in Martin Luther King’s example, because that is the only way we can move forward.”
A longtime member of Merrick’s Powerhouse Church of God in Christ, Caleb Garard, who attended the service to perform a song with his worship team, found that the sermon reminded him to be an influence to others instead of remaining silent.
Garard, who identifies as Black American, said he has never experienced violent racism first hand, but he has experienced micro-aggression from his peers in school. The service, he said, reminded him that if King could be nonviolent in the fight against racism, then he can be nonviolent against the way racism subtly enters his life on a daily basis, whether it’s intentional or not.
“The micro or little things that are said or done, can compound to bigger things by really affecting a person,” Garard said, addressing the micro-aggressions that he has faced. “Racism is prevalent in our society, but, Martin Luther King reminds me that I can take initiative to combat the systemic issues that are woven into our society, by talking about these issues to raise public awareness.”