Worship Service with Rev. Bernice King
Entering a meeting room to the music of Edward Lawrence, Music Director of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Atlanta, the 350-plus attendees of the 4th continental conference for midsize congregations began their morning with worship. The Rev. Lilia Cuervo, Extension Minister for Outreach to the Latino community at First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA, lit the flaming chalice. The group sang the hymn "Love Will Guide Us," and following a responsive reading led by the Rev. Lawrence Palmieri Peers, Extension Education and Research Director for the UUA. Peers introduced the morning's homilist, the Rev. Bernice King.
King, who has been named by Ebony Magazine as one of fifty leaders of tomorrow, holds religion and law degrees. King is assistant pastor at Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta, overseeing Youth and Women's Ministry. The daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., her first book of sermons and speeches has recently been published and is entitled, "Hard Questions, Heart Answers."
King, reflecting on the future of social ministry in the United States, used the children's rhyme of Humpty Dumpty as a model. There are, she said, people who are broken and wounded in the world. And so, said King, "I ushered Humpty Dumpty into the 21st century. I asked if that had occurred in our time and our day, would we be like the king's horsemen and the king's men (unable to put a broken being together again)? "We are the king's horsemen and king's men we have had a challenging and difficult time addressing questions of brokenness in our world" why, she wondered, is healing so difficult for us?
People these days, she opined, "would seek out experts to look at Humpty Dumpty," examining family makeup, sociological background, medical background, environmental influences, political impact and, said King," I heard the voice of one that was familiar to me, a priest, a reverend asking, 'is there something in the soul-ish realm that could have caused this?' And after all was said and done, they still could not put Humpty back together again." One of the reasons, said King, "is what my father alluded to when he lived the paralysis of analysis. They allowed their analysis to get in the way of being able to see beyond the surface" and so a broken individual remains in the same condition. But the reality also is that while people may come up with wonderful solutions, to bind up the broken and send them on their way, the reality is that people failed to examine the spiritual impact on an individual.
King said, "As I look at the host of societal problems, the great need in our society is for a return to being one nation under god. We have to find a way to come together …We would understand that our success lies not in our social and economic resources, but in the infusion of the lord in us and on us."
"We have a tendency in our society," said King, "to rely on other things and denounce the transformative power of God… Like Jesus Christ, my father understood that the spirit of the Lord was upon him, to pervade thought, feeling and action. There were great orators, great preachers of the gospel who could have led that movement…but through the spirit of the Lord, my father was able to change the hearts of men and women. And we today engage in social issues out of the wrong spirit. We do a great job of engaging issues but a poor job of transforming lives." King offered her belief that "The only way I know to transform lives is to develop a real relationship with Jesus Christ where we are transformed."
Social ministry must, she suggested, "be done under the spirit of the lord…because there you find rest for your soul, and a place where people can live differently….We have failed to see change in social ministry, we have not realized that systems can not be transformed unless people are transformed…
"I urge us," said King, "to let the power of the lord, the holy spirit, to allow us to propel social ministry forward. Social ministry can not be controlled by us. When something controls us, it possesses us….it gets deep inside us…It allows us to understand that no problem is too difficult to handle, too difficult to bear…when you feel the holy spirit, you can take on the world… Martin King knew Jesus, he was faithful to that relationship. Out of that relationship, he impacted, transformed, systems, and lives. He did not make a dent, he caused an explosion. We must incorporate this power into our lives if we are going to effectively create impact and reconstruct the world for social ministry."
"If we are going to see the world together," said King, "we have to go back to our foundation. And begin to see lives transformed and changed. And when that happens, we can all rest easy, and we can all understand and embrace the words of Martin King: 'Free at least, free at last, we are NOW free at last.' God bless you."
The service concluded with the hymn, "We'll Build a Land." Following a break, the presentation by Alice Mann, on "Navigating Size Transitions in the Midsize Congregation," began.
Reported for the web by Deborah Weiner.