Boyertown's Martin Luther King Jr. service honors the lives and dreams of King and Mandela

Photo by Rebecca Blanchard The Martin Luther King Jr. Service at New Hanover United Methodist Church on Monday, Jan. 20, featuing the Pine Forge Choir along with the Boyertown Area Senior High School Show Choir.

With song, prayer and dramatic reading and acting, the Boyertown Area School District and Pine Forge Academy again drew together to celebrate the ideals of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday night, Jan. 20.

“I think just us coming together, it really shows we’ve grown as a people,” said Robert Rucker, a Pine Forge student who played King in the annual drama. “Back in the day, that wouldn’t have happened.”

The area’s traditional end to Martin Luther King Jr. Day drew more than 400 Monday night to the service held at New Hanover United Methodist Church.

“It’s fantastic. It’s great to see so many people together,” said the Rev. Craig Biondi, pastor of worship at the church.

Since 1999, the celebration is held every year in response to demonstrations the Ku Klux Klan has held in the past in Boyertown.

Biondi moved to the area not long ago and said he wasn’t around for that but can understand the tension of racial history in the Boyertown area. He is the adoptive father of two African-American children, which gives him some perspective.

“This is one time in the year in the area that everyone can come together,” Biondi said. “Don’t forget this dream. Don’t forget the importance of seeing people who are different from you and treating them the same (as you).”

“This community got a bad rap because of a few bad characters,” said the Rev. Dave Lewis, senior pastor at New Hanover United Methodist. “The true community is what you see here tonight.”

The celebration, sponsored by the Boyertown Area Ministerial Association, capped a day in which King’s message was celebrated throughout the Pottstown area.

Workers from the Vanguard Group volunteered their time to do painting projects in the Pottstown School District while Second Baptist Church on Adams Street celebrated with its annual service Monday morning. Pine Forge’s choir performed there before heading to New Hanover for the night service in Boyertown.

There, Pine Forge and Boyertown Area Senior High School’s choirs both performed a set of songs. Pine Forge’s set included “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while Boyertown’s featured a song called “Keep Your Lamps.”

Students from both schools also came together to put on a drama highlighting the similarities of King and the recently deceased South African president Nelson Mandela, a theme of the evening.

Pine Forge Principal Delmas Campbell and Boyertown Area School District Superintendent Richard Faidley joined together to read a speech from Mandela and King, respectively. Once Campbell finished Mandela’s inauguration speech and Faidley finished King’s “I Have a Dream,” the pair shook hands and embraced.

“We’re trying to build a bridge,” Lewis said of the night.

In the drama, moments from the lives of both Mandela and King were portrayed as mirrors of each other.

Ravon Baynard played Mandela with a spot-on South African accent.

“When I was asked to do it, I was honored,” Baynard said after the service. “The celebration showed the power of God and that He can shine through the darkness.”

After acting out Mandela’s release from prison, Baynard and Rucker, portraying King, embraced, held their hands in the air and said, together, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.”

“Help us to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive,” Lewis urged those gathered. “Let not the sins of the past be repeated.”

Ending the service, the Pine Forge and Boyertown choirs mixed among each other throughout the aisles of the nearly full church to sing “My Country Tis of Thee” and “We Shall Overcome” together.

Rucker said the momentum of Monday night should not be lost and Pine Forge and Boyertown students should do more things together.

“I think it should go on more than just Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month,” he said. “I think we should get together more for different things.”

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