Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Last Monday, some 800 hearty souls attended a moving service celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This has become an annual event sponsored by three Arlington churches – the Unitarian-Universalist Association of Arlington, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church – which were leaders in the integration movement in Arlington beginning with the integration of Arlington schools in 1959.

This year, the event was held at the Unitarian-Universalist church on the corner of George Mason Drive and Arlington Boulevard. About eight hundred people crammed the stunningly modern church sanctuary and adjoining fellowship hall.

Each of the churches has great ministers who delivered moving homilies about Martin Luther King’s “dream” – what has been achieved and what remains to be done.

But the real reason to attend, at least for me, is the music. Each church has excellent youth and adult choirs, and they were all there singing and moving to the music. It is always a stunning and emotional experience.

The service opened with a grand processional of all the choirs into and around the sanctuary. We all sang vigorously “Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, High as the list’ning skies, Let it resound as the rolling sea.”

Wow! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The combined children’s choirs sang “Get on Board That Train” and “Come and Go With Me” with great enthusiasm. The Our Lady Queen of Peace Choir sang a beautiful medley of hymns and “My Help (Cometh From the Lord).” The UUA Choir closed with “Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether,” and Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” The service closed as it opened with a stirring song sung by us all. It is not hard to guess what it was. We sang four verses of “We Shall Overcome,” all of us holding our hands in a moving statement of unity.

Underscoring the entire event was, of course, the imminent inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. There was a large cardboard cutout of the president-elect greeting all of us in the hall, and many people were wearing Obama pins and clothing. The joy in the air was palpable; at least part of Martin Luther King’s dream had been realized in an almost spectacular way.

Another theme that was strongly expressed was one of the major themes of this column, the remarkable sense of community that pervades Arlington, including all of a remarkably diverse population. It started with the integration battles of the 1950’s and 1960’s – people of all races and cultures joining together for a common purpose. This still defines Arlington today.

It is over now, but next year when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday roles around, check out this celebration. It will make your day!