We began our journey in Atlanta – traveling from Ambler on an overnight train. Our first stop was Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation where Martin Luther King, Jr. was raised.
It was here, Martin received his call to ministry. Here, he served alongside his father “Daddy King” as co-Pastor. Here, his funeral would be conducted when he was assassinated at the age of 39. Here, his mother, Alberta King, would be shot and killed on June 30, 1974, at age 69, while she sat at the organ.
The congregation calls the old sanctuary their “Heritage Sanctuary”. It has been turned over to the National Parks Service to help tell the story. A recording of Dr. King’s sermon, “Drum Major Instinct” – delivered in that place on February 4, 1968 – plays in the background. Dr. King concluded that sermon by imagining his own funeral:
Urging the congregation not to dwell on his life’s achievements…King asked to be remembered as one who “tried to give his life serving others” …He implored his congregation to remember his attempts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort prisoners. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King intoned. “Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/drum-major-instinct).
Two months later – to the day – he would be dead.
In 1999, the congregation built a new sanctuary – located directly across the street from the old – their Horizon Sanctuary. Today, Ebenezer Baptist Church is a vibrant congregation of over 6,000 believers. On February 16, 2020, when I attended worship there, the room was filled with members and visitors. The family who joined me in the pew had just arrived from Germany. On the other side of the sanctuary sat a large group of youth and adults who had traveled from Rodeph Shalom, a synagogue in downtown Philadelphia.
Ebenezer Baptist Church’s visionary ministry to the community and the world continues.