This week is a watershed moment in our nation’s history as we ponder the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. While there are an array of things you can do on Wednesday to honor Dr. King’s legacy and life, I hope you’ll consider going to the nation’s Mall and stand with others who are calling on our nation to End Racism Now, sponsored by the National Council of Churches.
This is also a configurative moment in the life of our church, for Riverside Baptist Church had just completed its building and had set its first worship at 7th & Maine Avenue for Sunday, April 7th, Palm Sunday. That service was cancelled in lieu of the rioting that broke out in the city, following the Dreamer’s death. Fifth Baptist Church was reborn, from a bustling white church of a thousand in 1957, to a few handfuls of persons that had stayed after the urban “renewal” project in the ’60s; it slowly but surely became a bi-racial church at the behest of Rev. Frank Foster who, after ministering in the streets after those riots while pastor at National Memorial Baptist, came to Riverside.
Now in 2018, extrajudicial executions continue and those who carry them out are not held to account. Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, and very recently in Sacramento, Stephon Clark was shot by police eight times in his back. He was unarmed. He was Black. As the New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, notes, “These shootings keep happening because, on some level, America finds them acceptable, finds them unfortunate but unavoidable.”
We are a small church. Since 1968, we have moved toward being a church that is bravely actualizing the dream that all of us are equal and can find a way to live together instead of perishing together, as Dr. King would say. We are vibrantly opposed to the idea that the worship hour must remain the most segregated hour in America. We are passionately engaged in embracing all of God’s children. And we have been marching and calling on our nation to honor Black Lives because they matter as much as other lives. We obviously have a long way to go. The world needs a church like ours. We want to live up to that high calling. I hope to see you on the Mall on Wednesday. I will certainly see you at Jefferson Middle School for worship on Sunday. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.