The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at the United Methodist Church in New Canaan ended with a recessional hymn, "Oh, Freedom," sung by the Serendipity Chorale of Southwestern Connecticut, a singing group based in Norwalk.
"Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave / And go home to the Lord and be free," sang Serendipity's star baritone, Edward Pleasant, as he marched down the center aisle and out the door, to bring the service to a close. Folk singer Joan Baez sang "Oh, Freedom" at the 1963 March on Washington.
Residents gathered at the interfaith ceremony Monday morning to remember King.
The Rev. Stephen Goldstein of Zion's Hill United Methodist Church in Wilton was the main speaker, and he shared personal reflections from his life growing up during the civil rights movement, his belief in the goodness of King's vision, and his suggestion that people reflect upon and live their lives according to that vision.
"I hope that we have come today to renew our commitment to Dr. King's vision, and not just to feel better about ourselves," he told the crowd.
Goldstein, who abandoned Judaism as a teen and was baptized as a Methodist in college, recalled growing up with a black woman who served as his nanny, maid and as a mother figure after his own mother died when he was 5. He was careful to note that he could not speak with any real authority on the black experience, but rather from the experience of being white in a society that he said continues to reward being white and punish being black, even if only primarily subconsciously in this day and age.
"I am certain that my African-American friends are still viewed with distrust when they shop in Bloomingdale's or Macy's or, God forbid, Nordstrom," he said.
Joanna Swenson, of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, administered the invocation, in which she praised those who spent their lives fighting for political and social change, including Harriett Tubman, Jane Addams, Abraham Lincoln, King and Mahmoud Bouazizi, the man who set himself on fire in Tunisia, who some credit as starting the Arab Spring.
"All these, your saints, had a feeling that the world was not as you intended," Swenson said.
Music was provided by the chorus of Pivot Ministries, a residential program for men recovering from addiction.
Selectman Beth Jones read a proclamation on behalf of First Selectman Robert Mallozzi which cataloged King's successes in life and declared the day to be in his memory.
The United Methodist Church's Rev. Eric Fjeldal played King's "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered 50 years ago at the March on Washington, to begin the service. The words of the speech offered a backdrop for the proceedings of the day, a day when the nation's first African-American president enjoyed his inauguration.
New Canaan High School student DeVaun Bovell, a member of A Better Chance, where minority students from the tri-state area live in New Canaan for the school year and attend the high school, offered his words at the end of the service. Bovell, from Harlem, spoke about his experience as a minority in New Canaan, where, he said, he went from one bubble to a completely different one. He spoke about leadership and commitment to supporting his community, ending with an invocation of King.
"His dream has opened so many doors for all of us," Bovell said. "I don't know what my dream is yet, but I know I will be able to achieve it."
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