Congregation Temple Israel got something of a headstart on Monday's federal observation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a celebration in Creve Coeur that brought religious faiths together to honor the civil rights leader.
Friday's ceremony marked Dr. King's birthday and the congregation's 125th anniversary, complete with Shabbat candles, hebrew prayer and a gospel choir. TI presented the congregation's Malachi Award For Interfaith Relations and Understanding to Reverend Earl E. Nance, pastor of the Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. Nance was unable to attend after suffering a heart attack in December. His wife Viola accepted on his behalf.
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“It is a bitter-sweet moment because we wanted Earl here with us physically present, right here and now, to receive this award he so richly deserves,” Rabbi Emeritus Mark L. Shook said during the service.
Rev. Nance was recognized for his interfaith work as pastor of Great Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist church, which he has led since 1994. Together with Rabbi Shook, Nance also co-founded Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, a nonprofit committed to the support of interfaith events.
“I don’t know what Earl would say (for this occasion), but I do know a few things about the guy,” Viola Nance said. "He is a kind giant among giants. He has the biggest heart that I know and I do now that he loves family, he loves church, he loves the community, he loves the Jewish community; he really loves everybody. He just does not know a prejudice at all.”
Viola Nance said Rev. Nance, while in the hospital, instructed her to write on a piece of paper a personal message to the congregation gathered that night.
“I was in his room, right before they were ready to take him (Rev. Nance) to the rehabilitation room, and he was really trying to communicate a message to me,” Viola Nance said. “I said, ‘Do you want me to write it?’ He shook his head. I said OK, I will do my best. It took me a few minutes to write it. By the time he finished, this was his message for everyone tonight: ‘I need to get up and go home’.”
The congregation jumped in a cheerful applause.
Shortly after the award was presented, Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, Senior Minister of Saint. John’s United Church of Christ in St. Louis, gave an energetic speech on behalf of Rev. Nance about Dr. King and interfaith relations.
“Clearly we need a word from the Lord on today,” Wilson said. “We are still hounded by those who King called the three hounds of hell, when he stood on April 4 of 1967... suggesting it was a time to break silence. And yet still we are hounded by the triple-threat of racism, militarism and extreme capitalism.”
Martin Luther King Jr. visited Temple Israel Sept. 20, 1963.
Helen Schwartz and Harry Offenbach, members of congregation since the 1960s’, told Patch they can still recall their experience that day when Dr. King spoke to the congregation.
“What he said then was exactly what was said tonight,” Offenbach said. “Today his (King’s) message resonates specially because I think America is in a position today where there are so many divisions. There is still work to do.”