Four churches in the southern Scottsdale area will join forces for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day worship service on Jan. 21.
Six pastors will speak at the joint service, including Jim Coston from First Baptist Church of Scottsdale, Bruce R. Johnson of Scottsdale Presbyterian Church, Matt Rundio of Scottsdale First Church of the Nazarene and Brian McDaniel, Joseph Valenzuela and Luis Medrano of New Life Community Church.
“The idea is to demonstrate to our community that even though our churches are unique in doctrine and expressions of faith, we can still model the Christian values of compassion, unity and concern for our neighbors that Rev. Martin Luther King preached about,” host pastor Medrano said.
Each pastor was inspired by King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a nearly 7,000-word response to local religious leaders’ criticisms of the Birmingham Campaign.
King wrote the letter from his prison cell in Birmingham after he was incarcerated for violating Alabama’s law against mass public demonstrations.
“There is so much fear and animosity in our culture today,” said Johnson. “This is especially true for anyone we perceive to be different either in looks or outlook. However, the love which unites us is greater than whatever divides us.”
Johnson admitted that he, too, has been drawn into feelings of animosity. He said he and the rest of the pastors speaking at the service will tell one another how they will take ownership for their actions and thoughts.
“Each of the pastors will say, here’s my part of how I contribute to the current state of things and how I want to be better and ask for God’s forgiveness,” Johnson said.
By doing so, Coston hopes the worship will be a catalyst for bringing south Scottsdale together.
The ministerium of south Scottsdale pastors began 16 months ago as a way to build personal relationships, share news of their respective congregations and offer one another support through prayer and encouragement.
The idea of the MLK service, however, came about last November, when the pastors realized that they were not always stellar examples of unity, Coston said.
“MLK’s life was one of breaking down artificial barriers that separated people, calling Christians to live out their confessions in Christ and loving others even at a personal cost,” Coston said. “His words speak to us now.”
Rundio said that by coming together, the congregations are making a “beautiful statement that the church can rise above differences and unify around some of our central beliefs.”
He added that people in positions of privilege and power need to more readily identify systematic racism, sexism and classism.
“In learning to see these things, we need to, first, admit our own participation in these broken systems,” Rundio said. “Second, we need to develop courage to stand against them, even to our peril.”
Rundio, a fourth-generation Nazarene, said this particular service – a first for the churches in southern Scottsdale for MLK Day – would make his parents and grandparents proud. They also attended the church.
“My denomination was founded out of solidarity with marginalized people,” he said. “They would be proud that we are honoring and living into the legacy of Dr. King.”
Rundio said that he’s excited to explore the idea of reconciliation with the other churches.
“The church should be a place of reconciliation, where all people are welcome, no strings attached,” he said. “But we have a messy history of mistakes, blunders and outright evil when it comes to many issues, including civil rights.”
“It will be good to reflect on that pale past and move forward into brighter future.”
During the service, a joint choir comprising members of all four churches will sing together.
Before and after the service, activities for children, information on community resource groups and food and drink will be available.
Johnson stresses everyone is welcome to attend.
“The day we celebrate [Dr. King]’s contributions seemed a perfect time for us to come together as congregations, with invitations to anyone else who wants to worship with us,” Coston said.