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Oyster Bay churches unite for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday

The Rev. Peter Casparian of Oyster Bay's Christ

The Rev. Peter Casparian of Oyster Bay's Christ Church, left, and Pastor Kenneth Nelson of Hood AME Zion Church in Oyster Bay preside over the seventh annual ecumenical celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday at Christ Church. (Jan. 15, 2012) (Credit: Mary Kate Mahoney)

On Oct. 16, 1901, famous educator Booker T. Washington dined at the White House as President Theodore Roosevelt’s personal guest.

This meeting was described by Washington as “merely an incident that had no thought or motive behind it except the convenience of the president.” But the significance of the evening was enormous because no African-American had ever before dined as a White House guest.

More than 100 years later, at Christ Church in Oyster Bay and Roosevelt’s own place of worship, the Rev. Peter Casparian and his congregants hosted Pastor Kenneth Nelson and Hood AME Zion Church’s choir at its seventh annual ecumenical celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Sunday.

“[The service] was a daring thing the first year,” Casparian said. “Nothing like this had ever been done here before.”

But the annual service has since become one of the church’s most popular events.

“This is something that both communities look forward to every year,” Nelson said.

“It’s quite nice with the music,” Bayville resident and six-year Christ Church parishioner Eric Bergman said. Bergman’s wife and daughter don’t regularly attend the weekly services at the Episcopal Church, “but they came today for the Martin Luther King [celebration].”

The Christ Church and AME Zion Church choirs joined in singing hymns throughout the service, and also included “We Shall Overcome,” the well-known civil rights protest song.

In keeping with the service’s theme of “All Are Welcome Here,” musicians from the Camino de Vida Church in Oyster Bay performed traditional Spanish guitar music before the ceremony.

Glen Martin, vice president of development and public affairs for the Long Island City, Queens-based Fortune Society, was the guest speaker at the event. The Fortune Society, which works to support the re-entry of prisoners back into society, received a $20,000 grant from Christ Church last year.

“The injustices in the criminal system are the civil rights issues of our day,” Martin said, “I have no doubt that Dr. King, if he were still alive, would work toward reform in the criminal justice system.”

Tags: Oyster Bay , Martin Luther King , ceremony , church , Christ Church , Hood AME Zion Church

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