Ellis: King’s faith, message relevant as ever

Eric Ellis, President and CEO of Integrity Development Corp., spoke Sunday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Finding hope in disruptive times was the focus of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Sunday at Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg.

The service started with excerpts from King’s various speeches from the Civil Rights Era and included impressions of King and his work from community leaders; scripture readings from various ministers from the area; as well as prayer, music and more.

The featured speaker was Eric Ellis, President and CEO of Integrity Development Corp., a firm that helps to build organizational cultures where diversity, inclusion and respect flourish which drives sustainable, improved business results. He also started a record label, Positive Message Music, that produces positive music for young people.

He spoke of “Disrupting Hopelessness To Achieve Our God Given Purpose.”

“In our nation right now, it feels like we are in the midst of ideological Civil War,” Ellis said. “It comes with a cloud where even if you love people you will feel the weight of that cloud.”

Those in attendance at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Sunday at Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg joined together hand in hand and arm in arm and sang “We Shall Overcome” to close out the service. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

However, there was nothing to prevent those assembled from fulfilling their “God Given Purpose.”

Ellis spoke of his own experiences in having God putting him where he was needed to do certain things and impact certain people. At times, it was very difficult and there were times he was not sure he could do it as the challenges were great as many people feel times of hopelessness. Many people have an addiction to negativity.

“Embracing your God given purpose ensures success,” he said. “We are brighter, we are smarter, we are more powerful together than we are in isolation.”

Ellis spoke about how Martin Luther King Jr. had many instances where his experiences could have given into hopelessness, the violence against him throughout his work in the Civil Rights movement.

“How many of you would do keep doing what God has called you to do after your home has been bombed with your family in it,” he said of King, adding King received many death threats and was injured many times yet he held on to his purpose.

Local businessman Bill Neal shook hands with others as people welcomed each other during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Sunday at Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“His faith was not flawless, it was his strength and his guiding light,” Ellis added. “It was the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.”

People need to recapture hope and have faith that their purpose was bigger than one man.

“Dr. King recognized that his faith in God was more powerful than his fear of those who opposed him,” Ellis said. “He said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’

“He said that darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. He realized his God given purpose was to bring light.”

Ellis talked about the last speech King gave before he was killed in Memphis, referred to as the “Mountaintop Speech,” where King talked about how the burden he carried seemed hard, but he believed that God had chosen him and that compelled him forward, moving beyond the fear of failure and the fear of death.

Rose Thompkins and Charesse Rutherford sang “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service Sunday at Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“How many of you want to get to the place in your life where you are no longer fearing failure or death, yet you see something so powerful from which you are maybe willing to give your life to.”

Pastor Ian Reid of Parkersburg Lutheran Church talked about how many churches get into the routine of people worshipping with the same people every week.

“It is special events like Martin Luther King Day that we can all come together and be able to worship together,” he said. “It is a blessing that although we worship in different spaces … we are worshipping God together and that is what Heaven will be about.”

It is the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that have given many people hope, Reid said.

“It is a blessing to worship God together and get a glimpse of our future when we have a lot of folks together,” he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he has read and listened to King’s speeches and he has found two things that continues to resonate throughout, the ideas of love and forgiveness which are the prime examples of Christianity.

“The best way to remember Dr. King are those two things, especially today in a society where so much of what we deal with seems to conflate a difference of opinion with hatred and not love,” Joyce said. “I would ask young folks and the people in our society to remember that with love and forgiveness you can disagree, you can work towards your goals or whatever position you take, but it is always important to show love and forgiveness, and as important, show respect for everybody.”

West Virginia University at Parkersburg President Chris Gilmer said people might forget the words of some people, but those people will never forget how certain people made them feel.

“It seems that Dr. King was unique among us in that we won’t forget what he said and what he did,” Gilmer said. “We will remember he is the one who made us feel profound hope and deep shame as a nation and as a world all at the same time in a moment in history when both hope and shame were things we should have felt.”

He said the work continues on today in “climbing to the mountaintop” he wanted everyone to get to for the sake of everyone’s children.

“We have not gotten there yet,” Gilmer said. “We are going work with you every day to get the rest of the way to that mountaintop.”

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com