Hundreds gathered Sunday night in a celebration of freedom, faith and family in the Sesquicentennial Emancipation Proclamation community worship service, hosted at Springfield Baptist Church.
The service, organized by Pastoral Accountability to Covenant Faith, a network of about 20 local pastors, marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Pastors took time to remember the past and celebrate the present but also give guidance going forward.
The 91-year-old Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, a Civil Rights icon and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, was originally scheduled to speak but withdrew due to health issues. The Rev. Dr. Walter L. Kimbrough, former pastor of the Cascade Church in Atlanta and current pastor at Columbia Drive United Methodist Church, stepped in as the keynote speaker.
Springfield Baptist Pastor Eric Lee reminded the audience of the responsibility of remembering. "One hundred fifty years ago, a white man, a Republican, signed the document that went into effect... Because of that, we stand, all of us, as citizens, under the same law with the inalienable rights under the same God.
"We thank God today that, as the children of Israel are charged to always remember when the hand of emancipation made it possible to walk through the Red Sea on dry ground, likewise, we are charged in the nation to never forget."
"It's Dr. Lowery who said the hands that once picked cotton can now pick presidents... In Rockdale County, the hands that once picked cotton can now pick Commissioners and Sheriffs and the Board of Education," said Lee.
Kimbrough touched on many issues but focused on what emancipation meant going forward with the "emancipation of self-determination."
"Emancipation in and of itself loses its meaning," he said. "The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was a declaration. Proclamations won't necessarily change the hearts and minds of the people. So we have to have the emancipation of self-determination. You have to make up in your own mind that you're going to be free... You ought to act like you are free, you ought to act like you are somebody and you are going somewhere. You ought to act like God has blessed you."
The family was most important unit of society, he said. "You cannot have effective emancipation without and apart from family solidarity."
He drew from Bible verse Joshua 15:24, "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
Kimbrough said, "Me and my house, we're going to serve the Lord. And then emancipation is going to be real."
He also warned the many elected officials who attended the service, "There ought to be some accountability... We're proud of you because we voted for you and we don't want you to forget who elected you. Because if you forget, we're going to elect somebody else."
The invocation was given by Pastor Carolyn Thomas of Miracles of Faith Church; the Litany given by Pastor Layne Fields of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church; sharing of the peace led by Pastor Billie Cox of Macedonia Baptist in Conyers; a combined choir provided stirring musical performances; the Resurrection Dance Ministry performed as well; introduction for the guest speaker given by Pastor Aldren Sadler Sr. of Church of New Beginnings; a special presentation given by Pastor Christopher Shipp of Bald Rock Baptist; and a closing benediction given by Pastor J. Phillip Baker of Shady Grove Baptist.
Pastors and churches represented in the service included: Aldren Sadler Sr. of Church of New Beginnings; Arlen Gibson of Total Grace Christian Church; Debbie Hawkins of Face of Victory Church; Charmaine Moss of Providence Church International, Clara Lett of Rainbow Covenant Church; Tyrone Lane of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Covington; Harold Cobb of White's Chapel UMC; Ralph Freedman of Vineyard Christian Church; Carolyn Thomas of Miracles of Faith Church of Healing and Deliverance; W.J. Smith of Word of Praise Church and the Newton County Minister's Union; Edward Lee of Shiloh Baptist Church; Thomas Kilgore of Standing in the Gap Christian Ministry; Layne Fields of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church; J. Phillip Baker of Shady Grove Baptist Church; Christopher Shipp of Bald Rock Baptist Church; Billie Cox of Macedonia Baptist Church in Conyers; Patrick Daniels of Cedar Grove Baptist Church.
For more information on PACT, the Pastoral Accountability to Covenant Truth, email email@example.com.