The Interfaith Prayer Service took place at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on August 27th at 10 a.m. as the last official event for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication. The significance of the historic Cathedral will remain the location of King’s last sermon on March 31, 1968. As the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States and North America, it is a befitting platform to commemorate the honorable King and the intersection of his influence anchored by faith. The majestic pillars gave way to the billowing archways within the sanctuary and colorful illustrations painted on the dome-like dwellings above. The stain glass images decorating the windows, in addition to the lofty ceilings, aided the marble floorings and the cross shaped combination of pews and aisles. Despite the minor pinnacle damage caused by the earthquake and the threat of Hurricane Irene’s arrival, the facility remained structurally sound and suitable for the spiritual ceremony to occur as planned. The service commenced with the Carillon prelude and five songs by the Cathedral Choir beginning with “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and ending with “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The aisles were soon filled with Patrick Lundy and the Ministers of Music’s jaunty steps and royal purple robes embroidered with gold accents leading to the choral prelude. Breathing life into the gospel of their musical selections, their melodic harmonies and powerful range translated throughout four songs. The processional began upon the conclusion of “We Shall Overcome” and the opening hymn of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” followed thereafter.
Samuel T. Lloyd III, the dean of the Washington National Cathedral, welcomed the congregation to the service of prayer dedicated to the magnificent memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Reverend John Bryson Change, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, delivered the invocation leading to the call to worship. Reverend Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III and Reverend Dr. Joe Samuel Ratliff revered King as a “drum major for peace and righteousness” as they discussed this long awaited celebration. Although great strides have indeed been made, both asserted that there is still work to do regarding peace on Earth, and addressed the crowd by encouraging the “children of God [to] be still and envision a life ruled by love.”
The lights were dimmed and the opening words were delivered by King as an audio, echoing the mannerisms of his authoritative figure throughout the Cathedral.
Ambassador Andrew Young provided the very first tribute through an anecdotal recollection of meeting King and a brief chronology of trials and tribulations in his life. He reflected on tragedies such as the Montgomery house bombing, the city of Montgomery suing, and arrests; then he mentioned the joys of leading a march in Albany and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Young attested to King’s lasting commitment up until “he met his death forthrightly and deliberately” because King believed that “the only choice you have is what you die for.” Challenging our today to enhance our tomorrow, Young served a call of action through a declaration that “we must become stones of hope in the midst of this global despair.”
Elder Bernice King recounted the limited memories of her father that she uses every time she is questioned about how it feels to be the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. Although he was assassinated when she was only five years old, King instantly remembers the kissing game she would play with him and clearly identified with her nickname “Bunny”.
“I came to know Dr. King more than I knew Daddy.”
King was called to the ministry at the age of seventeen in the likes of her father, but it wasn’t until her graduation from Emory that she was ordained. She recalled a dream that she had where she was visiting her father and asked why he hadn’t been in touch. The dream, which occurred upon the eve of her 25th birthday and first sermon, offered insight and connection to her father as a particular spiritual awakening. King described her father as “an obedient servant of the Lord” and that was the Daddy she came to know and love.
“Let us not be about us, let us be about the feeling, and being obedient to the will of God.”
As the service came to an end, Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery humorously began his tribute by stating that “of all the things black people been through, ain’t no little hurricane” can turn us away. He rejoiced in his ability to be able to speak at the inauguration of President Obama and commented on that accomplishment being a response to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech forty years ago in the same location. “I stand in between the lines. Thank you Jesus.” Lowery magnified the progression as a witness and participant laced with wisdom and ensured that King’s truth is marching on.
“The earthquake might have messed up the top of the Cathedral, but it knows [it] better not to mess with the black monument.”
Scripture readings, from Micah 6:6-8 and Luke 4: 16-21, were recited by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.’s general president Herman Mason Jr., and the Assistant Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church Reverend C. Clay Pickens. Musical selections followed after every tribute including “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, and “America, America” respectively. Bebe Winans and his motivational rendition of “Stand” by Donnie McClurkin particularly resonated with the congregation as they sang lyrics, waved their hands, and were ultimately drawn to their feet.
“Stand and be sure. Be not entangled by that bondage again, you just stand and endure sure. God has a purpose, yes, God has a plan.”
Prayers for Democracy, Justice, Hope, and Love were delivered by Reverends and sisters ranging from Baptist Church Network, Georgetown University, NAACP, Jewish Community Relations, Evangelical Latino Coalition, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Trinity United Church of Christ. It truly represented the multitude of people Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has not only inspired, but also connected as he is a celebrated agent of change.
–Written By: Sondai Costley| Photography By: Sekaya Harris