Last Sunday we crossed the Ford Street Bridge, three Jewish women in a car with a GPS looking for Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. We were on our way to join a prayer service to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. Our visit would be the second part of a get-together that had begun on Friday at Temple B’rith Kodesh, welcoming the Reverend Rickey Harvey and members of Mt. Olivet Church. Magnificent music had infused our Sabbath service as our two choirs joined. We sang, bodies swaying and hands clapping in the presence of oneness of Jews and African Americans praying without borders and with boundless joy. The service defied histories of divisions, refused acrimonies and produced a “we the people.”
“We,” the collective voice I use, represents the spirit of the joint prayer and those who were there on Friday would recognize that the category was beautifully crafted by Reverend Harvey in his eloquent message of the making of community. The pastor’s sermon outlined a distinct we/us people who remembered that joy comes with social obligations, that joy wraps itself around and inside the ethics of equality.
We came to Mt. Olivet Church with a civil rights veteran and inspiring Rabbi Peter Stein and were instantly incorporated in a warm, vibrant and effervescent service. The choir rocked and so did the participants.
Twice in one weekend we have come from two sides of the Genesee River, from two faith traditions, from two traditions of praying, from recent estrangement of our peoples, from living in a racist system that must be faced. In a passionate sermon at Mt. Olivet Church, Rabbi Stein recalled Reverend Harvey’s powerful message of compassion and inclusion as the unshakable foundation of community in Jewish tradition. From Torah to Hassidic stories the rabbi framed a rule of engagement, “whenever you look at a human being see in them the aspect of being created in the image of God.”
In one weekend in Rochester NY a rabbi and a pastor using faith and personal experiences delivered the very same message: we are one. Each offered a clear understanding that difference does not imply inferior, despised, or devoid of rights. The experience we shared was simple: when we pray together and celebrate together we have the courage, the fortitude and the duty to address endemic racism and affirm that black lives matter.
Our coming and going between synagogue and church was a selfi that we took, and when we looked at it on our cell phones we saw that we are all alike. We understood that to celebrate his life means to walk with Dr. King across bridges that reject racism, denounce prejudice and do something about poverty, disparity and despair. We prayed together to give meaning and substance to Martin Luther King’s legacy of the beloved community of human beings who are distinct as individuals, who are equal as citizens, and who are alike in common humanity.
During the prayer service a woman from Mt. Olivet pulled me into the line of worshipers, asking people holding hands to make room for me and held my hand firmly and with great confidence. When it was time to leave we agreed to meet for breakfast on Friday and start community.
To come together in prayer means to do something beyond the exuberant weekend to confront an unfair justice system. In the politics of civil rights there is so much to do that we could feel overwhelmed. Yet, there are great things we can do by the touch of a button. Let us sign Congressman Jim Clyburn petition to restore voting rights as he reminds us of Dr. King’s words, “there’s no time like the present to stand up for what you believe in.” The congressman is urging us to protect the right to vote for everyone and to decisively refuse discrimination or intimidation at the ballot box. We can all click here and add our name to the petition and remember that with joy come civil rights.
As we leave the church we make sure that we have our social GPS, the one that Dr. King gave us when he walked on the Selma Bridge. We know that MLK is a Global Position System that tells us how to go to where we need to be. On the way home we no longer need the cell phone for directions. We talk and make all the right turns.