Susan Montgomery got up early on a frigid Martin Luther King Jr. Day morning. She put on her hat and gloves and drove over to Martin Luther King Boulevard in east Knoxville, Tenn.
Montgomery, chair of the Holston Conference Outreach/Advocacy Team, marched in the Martin Luther King Day Parade on Jan. 20.
“I've marched in the parade at least five times now, and it's always very meaningful." she said. “This was the first time that I've stayed for the service afterward [at Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church], and it was also very moving.”
This year, Montgomery carried a banner for Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee, along with a fellow member from Concord United Methodist Church, Kate Roos.
The banner read, “IWJ of East Tennessee ‘welcomes the immigrant’ and supports comprehensive immigration reform.”
“I walked in the MLK march because it honors a man who did much to open our eyes to the inequality that persists in Knoxville and in our country and that we often don't see,” Montgomery said. “It would be wonderful to go from this celebration toward having conversations across race and class among the churches in Holston.”
The United Methodist-related Emerald Youth Foundation also participated in the march , as well as the Rev. Jim Sessions, a retired United Methodist pastor and representative of Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee. (See photos of EYF and Sessions on Facebook.)
Other Holston groups also celebrated the birthday of civil-rights activist King, who “enriches and strengthens our social witness today,” according to the resolution first adopted by the United Methodist General Conference in 1992.
Emory & Henry College organized a five-day celebration of concerts, lectures, and presentations. The theme was, “From Bondage to Freedom: What’s Your Slavery Footprint?”
Keynote speaker was Justin Dillon, director “Call + Response,” a film revealing that more than 27 million people worldwide are under slave labor.
“He really challenged us to do something about this tragedy,” said the Rev. Mary K Briggs, Emory & Henry chaplain. “We can start by letting the companies with which we do business know that we care whether our things are made with products that are obtained by the proper means -- no child labor, no slavery, no human trafficking.”
Emory & Henry has hosted a special King celebration for past five years, according to Briggs, who organized the event with a committee and Appalachian Center for Community Service.
“The chapel was overflowing this morning at the keynote address with over 400 people in attendance, more than we have ever had," Briggs said.
Emory & Henry, located in Abingdon District, is one of Holston Conference's three United Methodist-related colleges, along with Tennessee Wesleyan and Hiwassee.
Elsewhere in Abingdon District, three other United Methodist churches joined in King community celebrations.
On Sunday, Jan. 19, Chilhowie United Methodist Church, a white congregation, worshiped at First Baptist Church of Chilhowie, an African-American congregation. The Rev. Sarah Slack was guest preacher.
Chilhowie UMC has had a long sisterhood with the Baptist congregation, Slack said. In 2007, the churches joined to bring a choir to sing at the Holston Annual Conference.
“It is somewhat of a tradition for the congregations to worship together, though this was the first time that people from CUMC went to First Baptist,” Slack said. “Usually, they come to CUMC.” About 60 attended.
On Monday, Jan. 20 Abingdon residents joined in the 28th annual King celebration featuring a march from Charles Wesley United Methodist Church to Abingdon United Methodist Church. The walk was followed by a program of music and readings at Abingdon UMC.
“This year the celebration also reflected on Nelson Mandala and the influence of Dr. King on his life,” said the Rev. Sherrell Boles, Abingdon UMC senior pastor. “Different people read Dr. King's acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded 50 years ago this year.”
The event was sponsored by the Appalachian Peace Education Center.