Sacred Historical Moments Preserved in Wightman

By Marc Lyon

For the past few years I have served as a liturgist for the Vespers and All That Jazz service held on Sunday nights in Wightman Chapel. The service provides a sacred setting for jazz musicians and liturgists to offer music and share words of reflection that carry on many of the major themes lifted up by Dr. Martin Luther King in a spirited message he delivered in Wightman Chapel on April 25th, 1957.

Nearly 60 years ago Wightman Chapel played its part in the ongoing civil rights movement in our country when Dr. King was welcomed to Wightman Chapel to deliver a message to fellow pastors and educators he called “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma.” King reflected on the societal issues of racism and social and economic inequality. Most of us judging by what we see and hear would assert that these issues remain just as relevant today as they were in King’s time.

King was invited to speak on the Scarritt Bennett campus after being un-invited to appear at another college campus in Nashville.

When I serve as liturgist for one of the Vespers and All That Jazz gatherings I am awed that I am sharing a stage that for a few moments in time served as a place where King spoke from his heart about the issues confronting our nation. I believe Wightman Chapel still echoes with the sacred moments and soul-moving words from April, 1957 when Dr. King spoke about how we all must “centering our lives in the will and purposes of God.” Those words echo regardless of whether Wightman is hosting a worship service, concert, dramatic presentation or a wedding. When I am in a quiet “centered” moment as a reader or attender I can’t help but feel the presence of Dr. King and reflect on the words he delivered that history-making day at Scarritt Bennett Center.

In January of this year, honoring the slain civil rights leader on what would have been his 86th birthday, King’s message was read aloud once again inside historic Wightman Chapel. All present in Wightman heard and received his enduring words once again concerning injustice, racism, lack of equal opportunity for all, and issues of spiritual morality. The message, while delivered many years after his death, still has the same ring of reverence and relevance from 60 years ago.

Nearly all of our Vespers and All that Jazz services close with a benediction that encourages participants to move forward in their faith journey in a spirit of hope and courage under God’s leadership. Dr. King ended his message in 1957 with a similar closing in Wightman. I leave you with a few of Dr. King’s closing words spoken on that spring day in Nashville in Wightman Chapel:

“Let me urge each of you to keep faith in the future. As we struggle for righteousness we do not struggle along, but God struggles with us. One day by the grace of God, we will be able to sing, “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ and Christ shall reign forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”

Marc Lyon resides in Nashville, TN. He is married and the father of two daughters. He has served as a liturgist for Vespers and all that Jazz since 2012. In 2013 he joined the worship planning team that supports the Vespers service. In 2015 he became a member of Scarritt Bennett’s Board of Directors. Marc attends Bellevue United Methodist Church in Nashville and serves as a Certified Lay Servant in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.