Folks from across the nation brought messages of love to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a variety of ways this week. Congregations ranging from the UU Fellowship of Beaufort, South Carolina, to the UU Congregation of Woodstock, Illinois, to the Anchorage UU Fellowship incorporated Standing on the Side of Love themes into their Sunday worship services commemorating the holiday.
TVUUC members Ken Stephenson, David Habercom, & John Bohstedt carry banners at the Knoxville MLK Jr. Day parade. (Credit: Karen Krogh)
Others across the country participated in service projects or marched in parades to honor the famed civil rights leader. More than 50 congregations received free Standing on the Side of Love rally signs as a “thank you” for their involvement. Check out some of the highlights from this year’s MLK Jr. Day events below.
Tennessee Valley UU Church, Knoxville, Tennessee
Members of TVUUC marched in the local MLK Jr. Day parade representing a number of different groups including Standing on the Side of Love, KIN, Tai Chi, Jobs with Justice, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, and more. Check out the online photo album to see more photos from the march (Credit: Karen Krogh). In the words of participant John Bohstedt, “The expressions of love & joy [in the photos] will give you a new idea about why we have parades!!”
First UU Church of Rochester, Minnesota
On Monday, members and friends of the First UU Church of Rochester carried a Standing on the Side of Love banner in the local MKL Day March. Members also distributed yellow scarves and buttons to help create a visible yellow sea of love. They spread their Standing on the Side of Love message in support of community, practiced public advocacy, and witnessed for an event that has long had representation and engagement from their church.
First Unitarian Society of Denver, Colorado
First Unitarian Denver invited youth from across the Front Range to the third annual anti-oppression overnight focusing on social justice in honor of MLK Jr. Day. This year’s program, entitled “Occupy What?!?”, focused on economic justice and brought together almost 60 youth and adults from seven congregations. Events included games about class and classism, guest speakers that talked about homelessness and poverty, and a “field trip” to the Occupy Denver site, where participants brought hot beverages to the Occupiers, talked face-to-face with members of the movement, and met with leaders for a presentation and Q & A session. The program culminated with “take home” discussions about ways to make a difference in the youths’ congregation and community and a joyful march in the MLK Jr. Day Parade. In the words of youth advisor Eric Bliss, “UU youth can make a difference. To quote MLK, ‘It’s not a question of burn baby burn. For us…it’s build baby build.’ Building connections. Building confidence. Building bridges. That’s what the MLK Overnight is all about.”
Love flag from First UU Richmond's 30 Days of Love kickoff. (Credit: Wendy DeGroat)
First UU Church of Richmond, Virgina
First UU Richmond kicked off Standing on the Side of Love Month with a service centered on Dr. King’s fight for economic justice and our responsibility to continue working to end poverty. In honor of Dr. King’s legacy, members, friends, and visitors filled out vibrant blue, green, red, yellow, and orange love flags joyfully declaring how they stand on the side of love. Sometimes smiling, sometimes reflecting, they clipped their flags to lengths of bright gold clothesline stretched across corners of the main lobby. To ensure that ideas kept percolating throughout the coffee hour, volunteers in SSL shirts spread the word about upcoming opportunities to stand on the side of love, including a Jubilee anti-racism workshop, a monthly community gardening day with a local elementary school, and a public witness event on Valentine’s Day for marriage equality. The congregation’s newly formed Alliance to End Oppression coordinated the kickoff.
First Parish Cambridge UU, Massachusetts
First Parish Cambridge kicked off 30 Days of Love with a call for the congregation to attend the City of Cambridge Day of Commemoration and Remembrance on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Over two dozen people came wearing ‘Love’ shirts and pins. Two of Coming of Age youth, Jordan Browne and Eleanor McCartney, participated in the program by giving a powerful rendition of Dr. King’s words on militarism, materialism, and racism. Several other members volunteered and First Parish Cambridge UU was publicly recognized for its role in the program. The crowd that filled the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church represented Cambridge’s diversity–it was truly multiracial and intergenerational. After the event First Parish members shared a community meal, networked, and distributed Love pins! Susan Leslie said of the event, “We were glad that we showed up in our community to honor and embrace the vision and values of Dr. King and to commit with others to continue his ministry of creating the Beloved Community.”
Cambridge keynote speaker Peter Davis. (Credit: Susan Leslie)
The keynote speaker, Harvard student Peter Davis, was enthusiastic about the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and the 30 Days of Love. In his remarks he said:
“I’m happy that MLK day is the first holiday of the year (after New Year’s), because you start the New Year with all these personal New Year’s resolutions, and you say, ‘I’m going to cut back on the sweets,’ ‘I’m going to make time to go running everyday,’ and then right about around this weekend, two weeks into the year, you’ve given up on all them… and you’re feeling down and don’t know what to do. And then Martin Luther King, Jr. Day comes along and reminds you that you can start your New Year off with not just personal resolutions but community and citizen resolutions–like ‘I’m going to cut back on my pre-judgment of others,’ and ‘I’m going to make time to go help out and speak out and act out more around school or church or my local community every day’–and those are resolutions that are harder in practice, but easier to fight for, because you’re not just fighting for yourself.”
UUA Witness Ministries Staff, Washington, DC
On Monday, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Witness Ministries staff members participated in an interfaith service at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church. The service honored Dr. King’s work on behalf of worker justice, which he championed up to his death, and raised awareness for Faith Advocates for Jobs, a campaign initiated by Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to address the suffering of unemployed, underemployed, and exploited workers. During his sermon, Dr. James Forbes reminded those in attendance that the march during which Rev. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was a march on Washington to demand jobs. IWJ, with which the UUA works in close partnership, believes that every person has the right to fair wages and meaningful work.
UU Fellowship of Statesboro, Georgia
As they have since the early years of the congregation’s formation in the 1980′s, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro marched (or rode on scooters, skateboards, or in our decorated truck) in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade through downtown Statesboro. This year the march also served as the kick-off for the “30 Days of Love” campaign.
Members of UU Fellowship of Statesboro at the MLK Jr. Parade. (Credit: Jane Page)
Olean UU Community, New York
The emerging congregation in Olean, NY, participated in an MLK Jr. interfaith service. Member Jess Gray read a prayer reflecting on our sixth principle. Many Olean UU attendees wore their orange Standing on the Side of Love badges to the service and celebration. In addition to the interfaith prayers, there was a speaker, drumming, a choir, and dessert.
Notes and drawings from UUCSV children to local prisoners. (Credit: Sara Kelley)
UU Congregation of the Susquehanna Valley, Northumberland, Pennsylvania
The kids in UUCSV’s Religious Growth and Learning program did a service project in partnership with the Lewisburg Prison Project to help teach them about the worth and dignity of all human beings, and connect them to social justice work in their congregation and community. The younger children talked about what it means to go to prison and for us to still forgive and love, and drew pictures. The older age group talked about prisoner rehabilitation and education and what the Lewisburg Prison Project does, and they wrote notes, poems, and pictures. All of the artwork and messages that the kids created will be sent to local prisoners. The congregation’s adults followed up with a workshop conducted by Lewisburg Prison Project volunteers.
Marquette UU Congregation, Michigan
Members of MUUC commemorated MLK Jr. Day with a presentation at the local library with a panel of eight on “Housing in Marquette” and “Walking with the Wounded – Stepping Toward Forgiveness and Joy, “a walk in silence then song. Their Social Action Committee also decided on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King’s birthdate, that it’s time for their congregation to purchase a Standing on the Side of Love banner!
Members of the UU Church of Cheyenne listening to community speakers on the lawn of the state capitol. (Credit: Sandi Gaulke)
UU Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne carried Standing on the Side of Love posters and handed out buttons to eager recipients during the MLK Jr. Day march in Cheyenne.
First Parish in Concord UU, Massachusetts
Rev. Elaine Beth Peresluha gave an MLK Jr. Day sermon entitled “How Are We Called” to introduce her congregation to National Standing on the Side of Love Month. Here’s a particularly moving excerpt: “There is a power at work in this universe that pushes trees out of rocky crevices and flowers out of the cracks in city sidewalks. There is a power that affirms love and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds that takes children from abuse and abandonment into creative, productive, and compassionate adulthood. There is a power that heals hearts after the most devastating tragedies–and brings dreams to the grieving that they may again dance with joy…I will not lessen my life by feeding the power of hate or evil—that power at work in this world that tears down hope, shrinks hearts and discourages minds. Do not live your life in fear of scarcity, in resistance, judgment, or hate. Choose love.” Read the text of the whole sermon here.
Sue Null at the Brevard, NC MLK Jr. Day Walk. (Credit: Sue Null)
Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County, Brevard, North Carolina
Members of the Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County marched in their local MLK Jr. Day Walk while decked out in Standing on the Side of Love gear. Their participation garnered them a front page mention in the local small town newspaper, The Transylvania Times. One member, Sue Null, carried a sign that read: “My gay children deserve equal rights.” She says of her actions, “I wanted to carry it last year and was cautioned not to, because I might arouse dissension. This year I said I didn’t care, I was carrying it anyway, and so far, no nasty letters to the newspaper.”
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to John Bohstedt, Karen Krogh, Sara Kelley, Wendy DeGroat, Susan Leslie, Kat Liu, Jane Page, Jeff & Julie Larson Keller, Barbara Michael, Anna Eskenazi Bush, Sandi Gaulke, Eric Bliss, and Sue Null for contributions to this post.