Celebrating a renowned global civil rights icon

The spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was ubiquitous last Wednesday, April 4, as peace-loving people of various stripes converged on Union United Church to commemorate and celebrate his life and legacy.
More profoundly it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the internationally-renowned activist, advocate, anti-war critic, social justice and human rights advocate, Nobel Peace Prize recipient…
He was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, that evening—perhaps for a respite from another hectic day of Civil Rights activity, just “doing God’s work” as he and his many adherents would say, and for a few breaths of fresh air—when, at exactly 6:01, a white man, James Earl Ray, an agent of America’s malignant noxious and cancerous social construct, which MLK was combating on various fronts, extinguished his life.
As the old adage goes, the soul was killed, but not the ideas and ideals… that the man personified and espoused in his relatively short but storied life.
It was fitting, then, that Montrealers too had an opportunity to join the rest of the world in commemorating the death and celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther, King, Jr, down at Union United Church.
The theme was Love, Unity, Peace, Justice, and it was palpable (in its various forms), and so much more of the many qualities the Rev. Martin Luther King personified in his lifetime. All that and more, especially the love, was there in abundance at Montreal’s historically Black church that Wednesday evening.
Those who wanted to be there were, for what was less a solemn, but more an auspicious and celebratory evening.
But not to be a love or joy killer, it wasn’t an overflow crowd by any stretch, as it would’ve been in ‘normal’ times for an event of that nature. It would’ve been filled from top to bottom. You see, Union United right now is not living up to its historic place, name and calling… in Montreal, let alone its potential. To my way of thinking the name has become a misnomer, because there’s no union or unity right now at the church. Both have been at a premium in recent years.
[I know, it’s not a nice sentiment to express, but over the years I’ve heard a maxim: “The truth shall set you free.”]
Which is why anytime I come in contact with members of the church I have a hankering to ask the question: What’s happening at the church? Are people finally kissing and hugging their differences away. What’s at stake? Is there a prize for people who think they’re doing the best… the most to restore the positive image of the church, to make it the place of choice for people on any given Sunday morning? Is there a contest among the polarized congregation to see who is doing more [to revitalize the place]?
What is it about that friction, factionalism, bad blood, disunity that’s so appealing, so intoxicating [to some] at that historic institution where people like Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and other historic figures and dignities set foot and drew throngs? Why have so many people been alienated, why have so many people put so much distance between themselves and Union United? More importantly, what’s with the factionalism? Why have so many people turned their backs on Union?
I’m not casting any aspersions on the church, on any individual(s), all I, and I’m sure many others, want to know is, where’s the union and unity that once permeated Union United Church? Or are people satisfied with the state of affairs? Where’s that atmosphere of Harambe? Or as the late Rodney King once asked: “Can… can we all just get along?”
The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King was in the place the other night, but if he were alive and sitting in the church the other evening, like me and many others, he would’ve asked about the continuing fractiousness that seems to be thriving there for some time now. Maybe he would’ve asked for a few minutes in the pulpit to address the fractious forces…
As I say to those committed UUC regulars I periodically come in contact with the survival of the church is a collective effort, not a one-man one-woman enterprise. The survival of the church is a collective effort. Except egos and pettiness seem to get in the way of the business of the church. Or maybe it’s me being myopic, just not seeing the bigger picture whenever I’m in church wondering… what the problem is, what’s at stake, what they’re doing to help revitalize the institution, especially to bring more people to fill those many empty pews.
As I tell them, it’s about the church, not about individuals who might want to be stars, media darlings, recipients of plaques or something with their names engraved on granite for those entering the church to see.
As a famous man who several years ago organized a charitable event which brought several famous entertainers… singers together to record a song with the objective of raising money to help in another global emergency crisis – hunger, starvation… Oh yes, that man said to the singers when they arrived at the venue “Leave your egos at the door.”
That sentiment should be in effect at Union United. There’s a church and congregation to revitalize and unite, to make vibrant again, to live up to its iconic name again.
[…] And as the uplifting words of tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were flowing last week Wednesday evening – including from the youth – at Union United Church, one could feel the uplifting spirit (of solidarity, unity, togetherness) permeating the church, and the Reverend sitting with a smile throughout.
Too bad there weren’t more people in the ground floor pews I said to a friend when the formal part of the celebration was over, and people were milling around engaging in conversation.
“We’re here,” he said, looking around the church, a sort of glass-half-full-half-empty response.
He was right. The turnout was good. But I was thinking of those years when harmony reigned at Union, when on any given Sunday there would be an overflow congregation. And notwithstanding the cold weather that evening, if all were well at Montreal’s only historic institution more people would’ve turned out to celebrate the life and times of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I for one will continue to badger regulars of the church whenever and wherever I come in contact with them, just to let them explain, if possible, what’s at the root of the problem, so I, and I’m sure many others, can finally understand what exactly is the source of the internal friction in that historic, Holy place.
All things being righted, what once was a vibrant congregation that has in recent years gradually diminished friction, could once again rise with a renewed vision and harmonious place of worship again.
The good old days can be replicated.
The people spoke of justice, human rights, social and economic justice, of change, unity and love… and sang uplifting songs… on Wednesday, April 4. It was indeed a solemn, but joyous occasion at Union United Church.