First Congregational UCC celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday with a packed house on Sunday, January 18, 2015. The church received inspiration from Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The visit began with Arun Gandhi joining Pastor Brooks for a dialogue sermon on Mahatma Gandhi and King. After worship, Gandhi then gave a presentation for the general public that featured stories about his grandfather and his advocacy for peace. The event received coverage from the Columbian, the local Fox station, and the national UCC media office.
King’s most famous comment about Mahatma Gandhi came when he declared that Gandhi, a Hindu, was “the greatest Christian of the modern world.” In the dialogue sermon, Berndt noted how King also cited Gandhi as “the guiding light for our technique of nonviolent social change” when the civil rights movement erupted onto the national scene with the Montgomery bus boycott. King would later visit India in 1959 and comment that he went not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. About this trip, Arun Gandhi told of how King was booked to spend the night at an expensive hotel known to the world as the Taj Mahal. After checking in at the hotel, King then went to visit a house in which Gandhi had lived. The house had since become a museum. In the sparsely furnished room in which Gandhi stayed, King insisted on spending time alone in the room. When the time later came for the museum to close, King further insisted on spending the night in the room. The museum staff relented, and King was able to spend the night. Like Gandhi, King slept on the floor. When he emerged from the room at 10 am the next morning, King declared, “Now, I feel spiritually strong enough to go back and lead my people in the civil rights struggle.”
In the dialogue sermon, Berndt and Arun Gandhi also discussed the similar ability of King and Mahatma Gandhi to engage other faiths. Berndt noted how as early as his days as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King delivered a talk for a Christian theology class that listed Gandhi as being among those “individuals who greatly reveal the working of the Spirit of God.” In response to hearing this quote, Arun Gandhi noted how is grandfather was among the first people in recent times to launch an interfaith campaign. He further quoted his grandfather as saying, “Worship is like climbing a mountain. We are all going up ultimately to the same peak, so why should it matter to anybody which side of the mountain we choose to climb up from.”