"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals." -- Dr. Martin Luther King
Yesterday in Baker Memorial Chapel at Western Maryland College, the Reverend Bernard Keels delivered a wake-up call.
With an occasional "hello?" to make sure the nearly 300 people gathered to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were listening, Mr. Keels wielded words as sharp as the sword of truth and nonviolence of which Dr. King often spoke.
"It's midnight, brothers and sisters," Mr. Keels, the northwest district superintendent of the United Methodist Church, told the congregation. "We are not living out the dream."
"As long as I see you as a white man and not a Christian man, I'm living in midnight," he said.
Mr. Keels called his sermon "A Testament of Hope," saying there was no hope of carrying out Dr. King's dream of peace and brotherhood without everyone becoming part of an inclusive community.
"Midnight is having your son come home to smoke crack and you talking about all those teen-agers in Baltimore City on drugs," said Mr. Keels.
"And you know you think all the kids in Baltimore City are doing drugs," he continued. "Because you know if this meeting was downtown, half of you wouldn't be here, and I don't just mean the white brothers and sisters."
Mr. Keels spoke to the ethnically diverse members of churches throughout his district, a pie-shaped region from Hampstead down to Carey and Baker streets in Baltimore and back up to the Westminster-Middleburg area.
Mr. Keels said the event was not meant as much to reaffirm Dr. King's teaching as it was to see if people understood the message in the first place.
"This celebration is more than just revisiting the whole commemorative of Dr. Martin Luther King and his teachings," Mr. Keels said of the ceremony. "We need to see if we have carried on the torch of his teaching to where we have become a faith community."
Even before Mr. Keels spoke, the room was electrified by the powerful musical performances and recitations.
The energetic rendition of "Peace, Be Still" by Brad Collins of Sykesville's St. Luke's UMC and the rumbling resonance of "Precious Lord," performed by Union Street UMC's Brenda Millberry, captured the audience, which cheered and clapped its approval, sometimes uttering "Amen" in agreement.
Members of John Wesley UMC of Baltimore brought adult, junior and tot choirs, and Sandymount UMC was represented by its male chorus, the Someares.
A choral speaking group from Epworth Chapel UMC of Woodmoor, in Baltimore County, performed excerpts from speeches by Dr. King, and the Reverends Joan Carter-Rimbach and Suzanne Weber recited portions of Dr. King's speech denouncing U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Mr. Keels' message blamed everyone and no one for what he called "Dr. King's misplaced dream."
"We need to be able to follow [Dr. King's] model of a Christ-centered society," Mr. Keels said before the service. "We need to realize what the wrongs are in our society and realizing that, aggressively work to right them."
"We were taught to believe that racism is the other person's fault," said Mr. Keels. "But until we can claim it collectively, as a society, it will never disappear."