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Faiths honor Martin Luther King Jr. with day of service

Published: Sunday, Jan. 19 2014 6:40 p.m. MST

The Praise Team sings as the New Pilgrim Baptist Church hosts a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration service in Kearns on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. New Pilgrim is a multicultural community with members from more than 30 nations.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

HOLLADAY — "Oh, oh, oh," 7-year-old Davey Nearman squealed, shooting up his hand when members of Congregation Kol Ami gathered for a morning of service Sunday were asked who Martin Luther King Jr. was.

"A man who had a dream," Davey announced when Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman called on him.

"I don't think you could say it any better than that," Rabbi Schwartzman said.

On Sunday, a church and a synagogue celebrated King's message. The civil rights leader would have turned 85 last Wednesday. Monday is the annual national holiday in the United States marking his birthday.

Although their religions were different and those attending came from different backgrounds, the theme at the church and the synagogue Sunday was the same — love.

At Congregation Kol Ami, Schwartzman citied the late minister and civil rights leader's teachings about doing whatever is needed to move forward and choosing love over hate.

"What you guys are doing here today is showing that love to everybody," the rabbi said.

Schwartzman referred to the lessons she taught in Saturday's sermon but said "the works we do with our hands today are just as important."

The congregation's fourth annual Mitzvah Day activities included making fleece blankets for traumatized children, packing sack lunches for the homeless and assembling bags of seeds for needy families.

"It makes me feel great," said Davey, who lives in Park City, especially after learning about King's legacy in school in anticipation of Monday's Martin Luther King Day holiday.

"Today is really about celebrating the vision of Martin Luther King and putting our values into action," Schwartzman said, describing mitzvahs as commandments of the Jewish faith that make the world a better place.

The day of service is aimed at helping to tie the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, "repairing the world," to the work of King, celebrated for leading nonviolent protests for racial equality.

Amy Ireland, of Alpine, sprawled on the floor with her sons, Asher, 12, and Ben, 9, as they carefully cut a piece of paw-printed fleece into a blanket intended to comfort sick and injured children.

"This is something that is meaningful to them. They both have comfortable blankets that they're attached to," Ireland said. "It teaches empathy and to think outside themselves."

Asher said that for him, Mitzvah Day is an acknowledgement that "what you take for granted, other people don't. You want to give them the opportunity to have the things you have."

Sarah Adler, 9, of Olympus Cove, said Sunday's efforts were a reminder to always be looking for ways to help others.

"It feels nice," she said. "Even just holding a door open for someone."

At the New Pilgrim Baptist Church, 5133 W. South Heath Ave. (4850 South), a special joint service was held, combining the congregations of the New Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was founded by an African-American congregation, and the Canyons Church, a predominately white church.

King's "I Have a Dream" speech was played on the three video screens inside the modern chapel as the congregations arrived to take their seats.

A rockin' gospel opening number by a live band was followed by words from Corey J. Hodges, the church's lead pastor.

"We not only dream about the dream, but we live out the dream," Hodges told the group.

An African-American woman from the New Baptist congregation delivered one speech, followed by the senior pastor of the Canyons Church, Mike Gray, a white man.

Gray told the group of 75 to 100 people attending the service that the way to overcome bigotry and hatred is by "turning to God's love and letting God's love captivate us." He also encouraged people of every congregation to get to know their own congregation members.

"I think that's really what this service is about, to get together and love one another," he said.

Gray then paused for five minutes to have the two congregations in the room shake hands with someone they didn't already know.

The New Pilgrim Church is a multicultural community with members from more than 30 nations, offering services in English and Spanish.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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