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Churches keep King's dream alive

1/22/2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This is a sidebar to UMNS story #016. Photographs are available. *Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis (Tenn.) Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

By Cathy Farmer*

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) -- An assassin's bullet ended the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but it couldn't kill his dream. On Jan. 21, leaders of nine Christian denominations met on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in a commitment to fight racism.

Standing on the very spot where King lost his life in 1968, nine men stepped forward, one by one, to affix their signatures to an appeal asking local churches to combat racism in society and in the church.

Signing the appeal was the first public step taken by the newly formed Churches Uniting in Christ, said Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

"We didn't want to start with something simple, something easy," Talbert said. "By making combating racism our No. 1 priority, we're showing that we're serious about responding to God's call.

"If we can get the churches working together in every community for the common good, we can make a difference," he added.

Two days earlier, the United Methodist Church joined eight other Christian communions forming Churches Uniting in Christ, the result of 40 years of conversations about unity through the Consultation on Church Union.

As "uniting" churches, each communion maintained its own structure and identity, but all vowed to honor one another's baptism, engage in joint mission and worship, and work together for the betterment of their churches and communities.

"Churches Uniting in Christ isn't a structural union, but it will change our relationships. We'll recognize each other as a church of Jesus Christ. We'll recognize each other's baptism. We agree on the apostolic faith, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. We will celebrate the Eucharist together intentionally and on a regular basis. We'll engage in Christ's ministry," Talbert explained.

Topping the social and moral agenda for the churches is the eradication of racism, which made the gathering on the King holiday all the more significant, said the Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist and president of the National Council of Churches.

Edgar warmed up the marchers, shouting for them to repeat after him: "Wake up, America! End racism now!"

Signing the document on behalf of United Methodists, Seattle Area Bishop Elias Galvan voiced hope that "Christians will learn to embody the unity to which Christ calls us. This world will be watching us, to see if we live up to our word," he added. Galvan is president of the denomination's Council of Bishops.

That sentiment was common among church leaders, who acknowledged that the church has sometimes been guilty of perpetuating racism and other oppression, rather than standing up for justice. Concluding his sermon at the celebration service for the new Churches Uniting in Christ, Bishop McKinley Young of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, admonished the Christians gathered: "This is our finest hour-don't blow it!"

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