By Christine Sheller
Iowa Peace Network, also a cosponsor, participated in the Palm Sunday Procession and Prayer Service for Peace, this past Sunday, April 9, 2017. A large group gathered at the Grace United Methodist Church in Des Moines, and processed to the First Christian Church at 2500 University, about 12 blocks away.Participants waved palm branches and held signs with messages of peace and quotes by MLK on them. Celebrating the Riverside speech that Martin Luther King, JR. gave 50 years ago, participants were urged to write quotes from MLK Jr. on their signs. Participants were also commemorating MLK Jr. speaking at the First Christian Church in Des Moines in 1959.
The music and presentation of the Riverside speech were superbly done. Organized by the Des Moines Faith Committee for Peace, local musicians and actors were asked to take part. Mr. Ben Allaway is music director at First Christian, and led the hymns, musical responses, and played with Mr. Lonnie Liggitt in gathering music. Mr. Lonnie Liggitt is a musician who played the organ when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the First Christian Church in Des Moines in 1959. He was a college student at Drake University. He traveled from out of state to take part. Aaron Smith was the local actor who re-enacted MLK Jr.’s Riverside speech. Several local ministers also led during worship.
Our opening song was “Down by the Riverside,” followed by a welcome from the current minister at First Christian, Rev. Ryan Arnold. Rev. Angela Lewis led us in the invocation, and Rev. Monica Stovall read scripture, Matthew 21:1-11, depicting the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, preceding his arrest days later, given a path of palm branches and cloaks with which to enter into Jerusalem.
After scripture, Aaron Smith, an award-winning local actor, began the litany of reading sections of the Riverside speech, intermixed with musical responses. The names of the sections of the speech were: “Breaking Silence,” “Our Field of Moral Vision,” “To Save the Soul of America,” “This Madness Must Cease,” “A Radical Revolution of Values,” and “Let Us Now Begin.” One of the other musicians presenting was Mr. Michael Terrell, on cello. He played the musical response, “Oseh Shalom” by Ben Steinberg. The other musical interludes included, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (MLK Jr.’s favorite hymn) played by Mr. Lonnie Liggitt on piano, “Spirit Rising” (by congregation), “If Not Now” (by congregation), and “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” (played by Mr. Lonnie Liggit). Our last musicial response was “Once to Ev’ry Soul and Nation,” and it was sung by the congregation.
Re. Russell Melby offered offering prayer. Offertory music was “I Trust in God,” my Mr. Walter Henderson, which was very moving as well.
Our last hymn was “We’ve Come This Far By Faith.” Rev. Minna Bothwell gave the benediction. Our going out song was “From this House.” People didn’t leave til the song was over.Approximately 300 people filled the church for the prayer service, perhaps being one of the most attended procession and prayer services there has been. The procession was very large as well, approximately 200, with police escort.
Christine Sheller is coordinator and editor at Iowa Peace Network. She is a graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary,