(Editor's Note: St. John’s Baptist Church was founded in 1879. It is the oldest African-American Baptist church in Colorado Springs. The original version of this story reported that it was the oldest African-American church in the Springs.)
With one eye on the past and one on the future, hundreds gathered Sunday at St. John's Baptist Church to recognize members for their work and dedication while celebrating 50 years since the delivery of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Dr. King's message and activism was born in the church and so are all the accomplishments that the district and church members are being recognized for," said Colorado Baptist Southern District Association Youth Director P.J. Gage. "We want to keep true to the origin of his message, that was part of his dream and his vision, and it keeps us focused on what's important."
St. John's Baptist Church, founded in 1879, was one of 11 churches in the association whose representatives were in attendance Sunday. More than 50 awards were handed out to members of churches in Colorado Springs and Pueblo for their devotion to programs and activities in their congregations.
In its third annual event, the "Unity in the City" musical celebration focused on the theme of servitude with the slogan "If I can help somebody, then my living shall not be in vain," recognizing district members and congregants whose work centered around helping others selflessly.
"We wanted to recognize everyone who worked hard to support others, who truly live for service and to help," said district music director Rev. Dennis Mose.
"It also coincides with the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech, which was so instrumental to the civil rights movement."
A short march in memory of King's legacy had been planned, but Sunday's freezing winds kept the congregation indoors, especially for the sake of older members.
Trinity Baptist Church member Mother Lorena Thomas, 92, talked about how different conditions were for African-Americans when she was a little girl and later on through the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"I thank God because things are different now, because they were much harder in the 1920s and the 1930s, and during the time of Dr. King and his speech," Thomas said as she led the invocation.
Awards were handed out to members for their contributions to the district's music, women's and ushers' departments, Mose said. Members with more than 20 years of participation were also recognized, and churches, such as Trinity and St. John's Baptist, whose history go back more than 100 years, received awards. "We have to take what we learned from the past to make tomorrow better," Mose said. "What I want everyone to take away from today is that when they do anything to help someone else, no matter how big or small, it makes their life meaningful, because they were able to affect another's life for the better."
As the annual event continues to grow, Gage said her hope is that it will embody its "Unity in the City" theme to encompass all evangelical performers and artists in Colorado Springs, regardless of race.
"This isn't a black thing. It isn't a white thing. It's a people thing," Gage said. "All our talents and gifts that God gave us are something that we need to share and grow even more through them."