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Chambersburg celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.

January 14, 2001

Chambersburg celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Praising Martin Luther King Jr. as "the right leader sent at the right time," about 200 people gathered for a celebration of faith and equality Sunday.

The service, held at St. Paul United Methodist Church, Chambersburg, Pa., was the 21st annual event held on the eve of King's birthday and attracted people of all races and creeds at the multi-faith ceremony.

The keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. Charles L. Meile, Jr., senior pastor of the Greater Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Pa.

Meile, a graying 50-year-old white man, surprised many in attendance.

"I am a pastor at a predominantly African-American church. Some of you have looked at me and are confused," he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

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But Meile quickly slipped into the cadence and volume many expected from the minister of a Baptist church, talking about the days of task masters ready with the whip or the gun, and slave ships that packed blacks like sardines.

He emphasized 400 years of slavery was a lot to endure.

"But if there is one thing I love about God, is God will only allow you to suffer so long before he comes to see about you," Meile said. "We may not always understand his timetable. He may not come when you want him, but he is always on time."

He said God raised Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and others when the time was right.

"Dr. King gave so much, sacrificed so much in a relatively short time. Nobody can do that unless God is on your side," he said.

But Meile also warned there are dangers in celebrating King's successes.

"When we get caught up in celebrating, we forget that even though we have been set free, we haven't arrived yet," he said "We have not arrived because anytime a corporation is found guilty of discrimination, we have not arrived. Any time a black couple is told there is no vacancy at an apartment complex only to have a white couple welcomed hours later, we have not arrived yet.

"We have made progress, but we have a long, long, long way to go," he said.

He cautioned that 30 to 40 years of Affirmative Action does not negate 400 years of slavery and that a celebration like Sunday's is not the end of the line.

"Coming together for one service, if that's all we do, we haven't gotten anything but a quick fix that makes us all feel better," he said "We need to go back to our own churches and declare racism is wrong."

The two-hour service included performances by the John Wesley AME Zion Church choir Heaven Sent, St. John's United Church of Christ chorus and St. Paul's Brass Ensemble, as well as a special presentation to the winners of a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest.

The contest was sponsored by the Chambersburg Area Improvement Association and the winners, selected from 500 entries, included: Jennifer McIntyre, a third-grader at Coldbrook Elementary School; Sabre Fowler, a fourth-grader at Hamilton Heights Elementary School; Zachary Frelin, a sixth-grader at Chambersburg Area Middle School; Brandon Wenard, a ninth-grader at J. Frank Faust Junior High School; Samantha Calloway and Laura Sheaffer, 11th-graders at Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

The annual King service is co-sponsored by the Chambersburg Area United Churches in cooperation with the Sons of Israel Synagogue, the Chambersburg Area Ministerial Alliance, the Evangelical Fellowship of Cumberland Valley and the Chambersburg Ministerium.

It got its start in the basement office at John Wesley AME Zion Church in the 1970s when the late Dr. John Rice, a pastor there, the late Rabbi Robert Chernoff, of the Congregation of the Sons of Israel, and the Rev. William Harter, pastor at the Falling Springs Presbyterian Church, talked about the importance of addressing issues of racial harmony and cooperation in the community.

"We were all profoundly influenced by Dr. King and his vision, his testimony and sacrifice," said Harter, who was studying for the ministry when King led the freedom marches in the southern states.

"I saw how he drew upon the Biblical roots of our faith and challenged us individually and corporately as Jews and Christians to live up to who God is calling us to be," he said.

The service grew from that conversation to include dozens in the preparation of the event, which rotates among different Chambersburg-area churches.

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