By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2020
ATLANTA—On Saturday, Jan. 18, as the sanctuary was being prepared for Mass to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Emery was downstairs, serving food to the homeless as part of the St. Francis Table Ministry at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Emery was this year’s recipient of the Charles O. Prejean Sr. Unity Award at the Mass. The award recognizes efforts to reach across cultural, ethnic and religious divides, building cooperation within a parish, between parishes and the larger community. The award is named for the retired director of archdiocesan black Catholic ministry.
For Emery, the honor is not an acknowledgement of just him, but of the many volunteers who serve in the St. Francis Table Ministry, some for more than 20 years.
“It’s an amazing group of people,” he said. “The shrine has been a nurturing community of outreach.”
For more than eight years, Emery has come to Atlanta’s shrine every Saturday to help serve a hot meal to those in need. One of his favorite memories is when second and third graders from Christ the King School in Atlanta came to volunteer. He said the kids were amazing, they enjoyed serving, and the guests loved them.
During his homily at the afternoon Mass, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III said holy Scripture challenges all to be great lovers, peacemakers and children of God.
“We must allow God to shape our thinking and to grace our living,” he said.
The annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., sponsored by the Office of Intercultural Ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, encompasses three events—a service project, the Mass and a youth celebration. This year’s theme was, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Acts of love
Young adults gathered for the “Service and Sips” event on Sunday, Jan. 12, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Atlanta to create hygiene kits for the homeless. Donations came from guests of the event, Chancery staff, Catholic schools and members of multiple parishes.
Volunteers assembled more than 300 kits including “an abundance of feminine hygiene products, items that are scarce and needed for our homeless and working poor community,” said Ashley Morris, associate director for the Office of Intercultural Ministries.
Erin Carlson and her husband, Cody, were two of the many young adults packing kits for the event. She is this year’s recipient of the Msgr. Edward B. Branch Young Adult Award, named after the retired Lyke House (Catholic Center at Atlanta University Center) director, who dedicated many years of ministry to the faith formation of youth and young adults.
Carlson’s family came to Transfiguration Church in Marietta when she was in elementary school. As a teen in youth ministry, she served in leadership roles. She stayed involved in undergrad and graduate school, even delaying her graduate degree to serve as a full-time youth minister when the parish was in need. As Carlson’s career has grown, she continues to stay involved in youth ministry, primarily planning and attending retreats.
“Youth ministry is all about encountering and journeying with someone,” she said. “You are not called to fix their problems or heal them—you’re just called to walk with them.”
Humbled and honored by the award, Carlson sees it as a challenge to keep going.
“There is more work to be done, and the award symbolizes a need to continue encountering others and to continue growing in my faith,” she said. “I have been truly blessed, and I hope to continue pouring love through service out to others.”
Sharing Dr. King’s message
Students, parents and school staff gathered for the annual youth celebration on Sunday, Jan. 19 at St. Peter Claver Regional School in Decatur. Students from Catholic schools across the Atlanta Archdiocese shared artistic expressions of Dr. King and his message of love.
Lauren Smith, first-place winner of this year’s essay contest, wrote about how Dr. King’s message of love mirrored that of Christ.
“By inviting God’s love into our lives, we can develop the peace that both Dr. King and Jesus strived for,” she wrote. “Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream—a dream first shared by Christ and now by many others across the globe.”
Smith is a student at St. Thomas More School, Decatur.
Second-place winner of the essay contest, Kate Santana from St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw, wrote about bringing the community together in love.
“We can take action upon the virtue of charity, which is being able to stand by others no matter who they are or what they’ve done, because we’re all equal,” she said.
There was a tie for third place in the essay contest, awarded to Makayla Lockhart from St. Mary’s School in Rome and Soncerá Adams from St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville.
For the poster contest, M.E. Freeman and Abby Scholl won third place, both students from Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Atlanta. Tina Nguyen and Keilani Nguyen won second place, both from St. Joseph School in Athens. The first-place winner for the contest was Ryan Karschner from Holy Redeemer School in Johns Creek.
There were tie winners for this year’s Chancery Choice poster contest, held in late November. Monica Khai from St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur, tied with Sarah Small from St. Thomas More School in Decatur for third place. Lily Fortner and Molly Maddocks from St. Joseph School, Marietta, won second place. The first-place winners were Chloe Jewsome from Our Lady of Victory School in Tyrone and Tina Nguyen and Keilani Nguyen from St. Joseph School, Athens.