Churches and Christian groups nationwide will remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his federal holiday Monday for changing the nation through unity.
Nearly 40 years after the assassination of the civil rights leader, King's legacy remains strong and his name still evoked in talks about racial equality. Yet churches will remember the Christian activist not only for his fight against racism in America, but also for his overall message of peace and unity.
"Dr. King's challenge to America – to honor its Constitution that mandates unity, equality and justice for all – is resulting in a healthy, vibrant, progressive America today," said Zollie L. Smith Jr., national director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, in a statement. "So let's not forget the dream by doing our part to keep it."
Also encouraging fellow believers to play a role in carrying out King's message, the Rev. Charles Quann, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Penllyn and Spring House, Pa., challenged attendees at a noon service on Friday to not just observe the holiday, but to remember the mission of the man.
"Too many churches today follow the path of 'prosperity preaching' instead of Dr. King's message of social justice," he said. "The key question to ask ourselves is, are we making a difference with our lives?"
In Washington, D.C., 123-year-old Rescue Mission will remember King's dream by hosting its 9th annual celebration of MLK Day with a commemorative service that will include a recitation of "I Have a Dream," special music and a provided lunch.
"Dr. King taught America that change can happen when people unite. That's a message that resonates with those of us who work and serve at the Mission," said executive director David O. Treadwell.
"We're about bringing people together and changing lives. Dr. King's dream still resonates today – it gives us hope and inspires us to join hands for a greater purpose," he added. "It's a message we all need to remember."
Last year, the event drew a full house and organizers expect the event to be packed again this year.
Meanwhile, other groups will use the day to address community issues dealing with race.
The 8,500-membered African-American First Baptist Church of Glenarden (FBCG) in Landover, Md., will host a live, two-hour broadcast discussion on "Race, Creed and Color: What Happened to Race Relations in America."
The open forum will include a cross-section of panelists representing civil rights, Jewish, Asian, Latino, religious leaders and others to address the rising rate of hate crimes in the nation.
Americans can find hundreds of service project opportunities to take part in on MLK Day on the website www.mlkday.org. Opportunities include food drives, painting schools and community centers, recruiting mentors for needy youth, and bringing meals to homebound neighbors.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21, is one of 10 federal holidays. It was first celebrated in 1986. King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35. He was murdered on Apr. 4, 1968, at the age of 39.