By Donnell Suggs
The Spelman College Glee Club sat in the balcony of the Ebenezer Baptist Church checking their cell phones and taking selfies. Dressed in black gowns, they were scheduled to perform Wade In the Water hours from that moment. All they could do now was wait.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church combined choir rehearsed time honored Baptist hymnals such as How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace in anticipation of performing a number of songs throughout the special church. They too would have to wait their turn.
Sunday’s special church service was to commemorate the 95th birthday of the longest serving congregant in the history of one of Atlanta’s oldest churches.
Dr. Christine King Farris, a former Spelman College professor, Atlanta Public Schools teacher and author may have entered the sanctuary at Ebenezer Baptist Church in a wheelchair but the packed congregation and the before-mentioned choirs quickly lifted her up with applause and song. The eldest sister of the late Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Farris had been baptized in the church and thus is its longest continuous participant. A former member of the choir, Farris watched her grandfather, father and younger brothers- Dr. King and the late Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King- preach from the very same pulpit as pastors of the church. Her mother, the late Alberta Williams King, the choir director for more than 20 years. Ebenezer Baptist Church is home and what better place to celebrate comes birthday than home.
Following an opening prayer by Rev. Natosha Reid Rice, Minister of Public Life at All Saints’ Episcopal Church there were a number of invited guests that made their way to the pulpit to preach and sing the praises of Farris’ dedication to her family’s church.
In the middle of a campaign to retain his Senate seat, Rev. Senator Raphael Warnock (Ga.-D), the fifth pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, took time to spoke of the big sister/little brother relationship between Farris and her brother “ML”. “Thank God for big sisters,” said Warnock as he told the biblical story of the baby Moses being placed in a basket and sent down river by his mother only to be found by the King’s daughter and raised in the palace by his mother once again. Moses’ sister watched the baby float down river but never took her eyes off him, said Warnock. “Thank God for Dr. Christine King Farris, the longest serving member of Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
Of Farris’ level of dedication to her church he said, “If the folks that are 25 were as string as Dr. Christine King Farris is at 95 the church would be much better off.”
Warnock closed his remarks by telling a story of how Farris wore her Spelman cardigan to church one Sunday for college day” and said, “Long live the queen,” a reference to Farris’ rank among the congregants at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Farris’ niece, Dr. Bernice King, CEO of The King Center, took the microphone next and spoke of her aunt’s work in setting up and helping run The King Center as vice chair and treasurer all those many years ago following the murder of her younger brother, the centers namesake. “We are here today to obviously celebrate 95 years of life, a woman of strength, a woman of grace, a woman of dignity, elegance, resilience, faith and great integrity and inspiration,” said King. “A woman who served The King Center for some 51 years.”
King added, “We love you, happy birthday, May God bless and may you continue to live 95 more years.”
Former U.S. Ambassador, City of Atlanta Mayor and MLK confidant Andrew Young took an opportunity to sing, I Love Everybody In My Heart, when he had the chance to speak. Young has been a friend of Farris and the King family for decades.
The Spelman Glee Club finally had their chance to sing and their rendition of Wade In The Water filled was powerful enough to bring all in attendance -the church was full of well-wishers, friends, family and media- to their feet.
Farris was said to be a woman of few words by many in attendance, but her work as an educator and author continues to enlighten and entertain. She use to read her book, ‘My Brother Martin” to King Center visitors from time to time. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park Superintendent Judy Forte presented a crystal golden one to Farris as a birthday gift and said, “I promise we will hold on to your stories and will tell them faithfully to future generations.”
Performances from Ebenezer Baptist Church psalmist Tamika Patton-Watkins, gospel recording artist Angel Taylor Capehart and former Spelman College professor of music Laura English-Robinson were highlights of the church service.
Pastor Darryl L. Winston of Greater Works Ministries gave the closing prayer. Dr. Christine King Farris didn’t have to say a word. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last living sibling has lived long enough to have her deeds do the talking for her.
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