Mary Lou McKinley braved cold rain and a long bus ride Monday to honor a civil-rights hero.
The mix of soulful singing and fiery preaching at Glacier Valley Church of God made the trip well worth it.
"It stirred me up," McKinley said. "It was great because there were a lot of 'amens' and preaching."
Scores of people attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Thunder Mountain Road. With music, prayer and speeches, the event's leaders lifted spirits and challenged the congregation to pursue a dream.
Juneau's Black Awareness Association sponsored the event. The group and its approximately 20 members will be organizing more activities in a few weeks for Black History Month, spokeswoman Sherry Patterson said.
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"We're a rich culture, and we want to share what we are with the city," Patterson said.
Also a singer, Patterson wowed the congregation with hymns. Listeners raised their arms and bowed their heads to her music. They even broke out in cheers after one of her verses, "I sing because I'm free."
Her voice boomed and whispered through the church. After the performance, she walked off stage shouting "Hallelujah! Glory!"
Pastor Richard Green, leader of the 150-member church for 18 years, gave an impassioned sermon about the power of people who have God with them.
He touched on a moment of vulnerability that King experienced in 1955 while leading a boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Ala. Green said King was sitting at a kitchen table after receiving threats, fearing for his family's safety.
"God came to him and simply said, 'I am with you,'" Green said.
"Throughout King's life, he came back to that visitation at the kitchen table," Green said. "For him, it became the bedrock of his Christian faith.
"Some will say, 'But he was killed,'" Green said. "Yes, but look at what happened. The dream was fulfilled."
After Monday's event, Green said he was glad he could be a part of it. And the participants left the church with a renewed sense of respect for King.
"We celebrate him because we believe he was such a phenomenal man of God who was called," Patterson said. "He had a purpose, accepted that call, walked in destiny and lived and died for that purpose. It's an honor to celebrate him."
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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