Staff from organizations at the Interchurch Center and members of the Christian community in New York City attended the service, held during the lunch hour in the building’s chapel. The service included presiders representing four faith traditions.
The service’s gathering call included words from the concluding prayer of a sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr in a 1967 sermon at Riverside Church, across the street from the Interchurch Center. The call was a prayer to “reinforce the unity that we have as Christians to ‘open our hearts, that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us.’”
Rev. Dr David Latimore, director of the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, delivered the homily during the service.
The presence of Latimore as a representative of an institution that focuses on the theology of African American churches in the United States, as well as the service being held the same week as the national holiday in the United States for King, a prominent African-American leader during the civil rights movement, gave the service a distinct African-American flavor. Musical selections at the service included traditional African-American spirituals and hymns.
“United in holy impatience”
The overall service followed the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—"Do good; seek justice,” from Isaiah 1:17. The theme was chosen and developed by a group from the Council of Churches in the USA state of Minnesota. In the materials they produced for the Week of Prayer, the group explained, “For years, Minnesota has had some of the worst racial disparities in the nation.”
A recent flashpoint in the state’s history of racial disparities occurred in March 2020, when George Floyd, an African-American man, was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, the state’s largest city. The killing of Floyd sparked mass demonstrations in Minneapolis and cities around the world as protests against injustices, especially among people of African descent, as well as the racial and economic disparities that the global COVID-19 pandemic was exposing during that period.
In his homily, Latimore said Christians need to be “united in holy impatience.” Latimore preached on Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, in which a woman continually and impatiently seeks justice from an uncaring judge. Latimore described holy impatience as “faith truly in action.”
“Holy impatience grasps at the realization of God’s will in the presence of constant evil,” Latimore said, “It believes that God has a future for a community and that that future is seeking to invade this present moment and that you and I are the instruments for that intervention.”
Holy impatience, he added, “is an active pursuit of God’s will in the here and the now.” Just as current generations need holy impatience, Latimore explained, earlier generations, including those in King’s time of the American civil rights movement, were unified by it.
“Holy impatience…allows us to realize that we can change a community and don’t have to wait for the trumpets to sound or for those in elected positions to provide solutions,” he said, sounding the note of unity again by adding, “that we in our holy impatience can join hands and minds and do the work that God has called us to do.”
Stones and stories
The service also featured two faith leaders sharing their stories during a time called “Stones and Stories” as another way of making Christian unity visible to worshippers. “[We are] living stones … bearing witness to the stories that we live on. With each story, the body of Christ is being built up and edified,” explained Rev. Margaret Rose, ecumenical and interreligious deputy to the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. “Our stories are intertwined with the story of Christ, the cornerstone of our Christian unity.”
One of those faith leaders, Rev. Dr Cheryl Dudley, regional executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York, told a story about facilitating a gathering of Muslim activists in Jakarta a few years ago while serving in a previous position as director of global religions for a local foundation.
On the final day of the gathering, Dudley was invited to join the group in their midday Muslim prayers. While she was hesitant, Dudley said she risked meeting with them in prayer. During a time of informal sharing afterwards, members of the group shared their prayer requests. “It was especially during those moments that I knew that the God that I was familiar with was also the same God they were familiar with,” she recounted.
The service concluded with a prayer asking God to encourage those present to “continue to tell their stories, to do good, and to seek justice for the sake of your creation through their actions” as well as to “sustain them that they may be one.”
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, and the Interchurch Center Committee on Ecumenical, Interfaith, and Community Concerns organized the service. A recording can be viewed online.