Pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church to lead commemorative interfaith service in Baltimore

A direct spiritual successor to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will lead an interfaith prayer service in honor of the slain civil rights pioneer Thursday night in Baltimore at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

The Rev. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will speak and offer prayers at the service, an event organized by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of King’s death.

Warnock is the fifth senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, the church where King’s father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., and King both served and where King was baptized.

Local faith leaders from the Jewish and Muslim traditions and from local Catholic and non-Catholic Christian communities will also share thoughts and offer prayers.

Several civic and other community leaders are expected to attend, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, who have accepted invitations from the Archdiocese to read intercessory prayers during the service.

Archbishop William E. Lori, leader of the Baltimore area’s half-million Catholics, will serve as host for the event, which is open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m.

Lori has spent much of the year drawing attention to King’s faith in nonviolent protest as a means of promoting social change, including in a pastoral letter he wrote in advance of the late minister’s birthday in January.

Lori used the letter to urge members of the Archdiocese — and everyone in “our violent and fragmented society” — to reconnect with the wisdom of King’s example. He said he views the service as a way of celebrating those values in person and across religious and cultural lines.

“Dr. King was a prophet in terms of the principles of nonviolence,” Lori said. “He was also a prophet in terms of proclaiming the principle of equality that is deeply rooted in faith. I think he deserves an opportunity to be heard again. This is an opportunity to do that.”

The idea for an interfaith service in King’s honor evolved from discussions with faith leaders from a variety of traditions over the past several months, Lori said.

Rev. Alvin Hathaway of Union Baptist Church, Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom, Imam Earl el-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, Bishop William Gohl of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Michael P. Brady, president of the Baltimore Maryland Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are among those scheduled to share reflections and prayers.

An interfaith choir will include members of the Cardinal Shehan School Choir, the group of primary school students whose performance of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” went viral on video last year.

Warnock has led Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, when he became the youngest pastor in the congregation’s long history.

Among his many honors, he has been inducted as a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at his — and King’s — alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta. The Root, a magazine that covers African-American culture, named him one of the top 20 African-American church leaders in the U.S.

Lori said the service would probably have been scheduled closer to April 4, the anniversary of King’s death in 1968, but Warnock was in so much demand that organizers pushed the date back.

“I think we’re all blessed that Dr. Warnock agreed to participate,” Lori said. “He will bring to life Dr. King’s legacy and teaching and will inspire us to continue to have the kinds of conversations we need to have to build bridges across the lines that divide us.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful evening. I hope many, many people will come.”

jonpitts@baltsun.com

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