I moved to Geneva on a Saturday in January. I wasn’t supposed to begin work as the minister at Trinity Church on South Main for a week, except it was Martin Luther King weekend and the celebration was to be held at Trinity on Monday.
I didn’t know the congregation or the building, technically I hadn’t started work yet. But I found myself acting as host for an event that filled the massive nave. The chancel too, bulged to the brim with a gospel choir and musicians. The kitchen and dining rooms were buzzing with a multi-congregation volunteer crew preparing a huge lunch for afterward. It was big, fabulous chaos of the sort that builds community.
But the day began, as it has for decades, with a march through downtown Geneva. It was bitter cold but having moved from Vermont, a wardrobe to keep me toasty was easy. The hard part was going someplace unfamiliar, the Public Safety Building, where I didn’t know a soul and no one knew me. But The Rev. Donald Golden greeted me with open arms, nearly took me by the hand and walked with me for a good part of the march, and introduced me to others along the way. I felt embraced.
Then came the singing and the preaching and the joyful exuberance of spirit that swelled the church up to its forty foot high rafters. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was used to community MLK celebrations in Buffalo, but they were more formal and spread out at tables in the vast convention center where banks and corporate offices sent disinterested employees to fill up their tables. It wasn’t a community wrapping its arms around itself in both an embrace and a challenge. It wasn’t at all how Geneva does MLK Day.
On Monday this week, I was reminded of that first Monday in Geneva. It has been a couple of years since there was an indoor celebration and I think the COVID shutdown and weather had diminished the observance the last couple of years. One of those years I was unable to participate because of a health issue and the pandemic makes everything a little foggy. But this year, oh my, it roared back.
It began at the Court House, which was new this year, but there was The Rev. Don Golden smiling from the steps, welcoming the crowd as he always has. Lucile Mallard too, greeting and gathering as she does with the warmest smile imaginable. Returning after an absence and making it feel just right, was Mark Gearin moving through the crowd. Suddenly all seemed right with the world. It was one of those moments that in contrast to the past couple years of pandemic weirdness, you snap back to the way it was.
But wait, there was something different about this year. Someone different. Amie Hendrix was called up and she ascended the steps. A new voice emerged, a strong voice. Articulate, passionate words flowed forth from her as she extolled an urgent challenge for justice and human rights. It was pitch perfect for the moment and it sounded authentic for her, not a politician’s words. I thought, “ah, this is good.”
Then came worship at Mt. Olive. The singing, the preaching, the joyful exuberance of spirit. It was good, really good.