Special Service Sunday at Historic Wesley United Methodist Church Honors 60th Anniversary of March on Washington

Todd Rossnagel
August 27, 2023

Sixty years ago, nearly a quarter of a million people congregated at the Lincoln Memorial to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the heart of the nation's capital. The significance of that day, August 28, 1963, is indelibly marked by Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, which has grown to symbolize an essential cornerstone of the ongoing struggle for racial and social parity.

On Sunday, the event was celebrated and remembered in downtown Baton Rouge at historic Wesley United Methodist Church as they hosted a special service that included a tribute to the historic march and brought together community leaders, past and present, to discuss the continued relevance of social justice.

The congregation gathered to honor the landmark moment in civil rights history and to recognize several notable leaders in Baton Rouge. Among those honored was East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

Mayor Weston-Broome presented Rev. Dr. Johnathan Carlton Richardson, the pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, with a certificate of commemoration.

During her remarks, she emphasized the lasting impact of the events 60 years ago and the importance of addressing social justice issues in the present day.

"What happened 60 years ago certainly resonates and echoes in our lives today and did every year thereafter," Mayor Weston-Broome said. "And so, as we in our community today are here at this historic church, I would say that this is the place to be as we talk about social justice in our community because justice occurs over 143 times in the scriptures. One of my favorite passages comes from Micah 6:8. 'And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?' And so today, against the backdrop of faith, we must continue to advocate for social justice."

The commemorative service also included a video greeting from Bishop Delores J. Williamston, who praised Wesley United Methodist Church for its resilience throughout history.

Bishop Williamston highlighted the church's role in education, social action, and community support. She also challenged the congregation to view Social Justice Sunday as more than just a one-day event and encouraged them to take proactive steps to address issues such as homelessness, poverty, addiction, and educational inequity.

She reminded the congregation of a dream before Dr. King's dream, a dream God set in motion over 2000 years ago through his son, Jesus Christ.

"Jesus cast the vision while reading in the temple of why he was sent," Bishop Williamston said. "He was sent to proclaim the good news for the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of a sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. So church, there is work to do. And until we meet once again, let us march forward with hope as we seek to do as Amos 5:24 says, 'Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.'"

In his sermon, Rev. Richardson prompted a packed house to reflect on the question, "Does God speak?"

Drawing parallels to the words of Martin Luther King Jr., he emphasized the concept that living in one's calling was essential to contributing to the greater beauty of society. 

"No matter how inspired King's words are, we must remember that King believed, like we believe, that God speaks," Rev. Richardson said. "When God speaks, and God calls us, whenever we are living in our calling, that is the only way, as far as Christians are concerned, that we live beautiful lives. And whenever we are not living in our calling that God has called us to, we are not contributing to the beauty that is us, the beauty that is we, the beauty that is Baton Rouge, and anyone who does not follow God's calling in their life individually or collectively is not wrapped up, tied up in the beauty of God."

The special service at Wesley United Methodist Church served as a poignant reminder of the past and a call to action for the future. As Baton Rouge continues to navigate social justice challenges, the congregation stands united in its commitment to advocate for change and uplift their community.
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