We Celebrate the Peaceful Warrior: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By on April 1, 2022
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As a teacher of history, changing times, leaders, and personalities have always sparked my interest. Conveying such information as creatively, collaboratively, and engagingly as possible is often an opportunity to share, inform, question, and educate.

Last year, for the first time, Church of the Incarnation celebrated the life and legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We were not sure if any parish in the diocese had done so before. We were not even sure how our parishioners would respond to such an initiative.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and it confirmed that we were continuing on the right path of learning another aspect of social injustice. Many Canadians may ask: Why celebrate an American and the civil rights movement that happened there decades ago? The answer is easy. The issues that confront our neighbours in the United States—prejudice, bias, discrimination, inequity at varying levels—are often duplicated here, but in more subtle forms. In many ways, we deny that our history could have such injustices. But is that accurate?

When asked if a parish has celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday on the third Sunday of January, the responses are varied but often answers are: We never thought about it. What does it have to do with us (as Anglicans)? How would it fit into our liturgy? Isn’t he American? Don’t have the time. I don’t want to do it wrong. Where would we start?

As our parishes become more diverse, such a celebration is for everyone of whatever ethnicity who has an interest in social and political justice, and empowering the marginalised, just as Jesus did. Perhaps it is time to have more risk-takers in our churches who will try something new. These differing times may be prompting us in that direction; otherwise, our churches may become socially irrelevant. What do we have to lose? We are called to be a light, and “do unto others as we would have them do to us.” So, what did our planning team do?

When we designed the liturg,y our director of music was intensely interested and involved. “I believe that music has a tremendous capacity to impact those gathered for worship,” she reflected, “expanding our sense of understanding, empathy, and connection.” The music chosen was typical of the times. As we were having virtual services, it was easy to mix live (masked) socially distanced singing and music from YouTube.  We worked with the resources that were available to us. You can too!

Some suggestions: Our prayers were chosen just as they are in any church for such a service. There are churches in dioceses who have done this before and are happy to share. You don’t have to reinvent the liturgical wheel for such a service. Along with a song, start with an opening prayer, or your readings can creatively reflect the thrust for civil rights locally and around the world. We incorporated parts of Dr. King’s speeches, and there are many. What a great way to engage your dynamic readers! We paid tribute in word and song as we relived a small segment of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement. When we look at the American South today, we ask: How far have they come?

The first year, our rector, Michael, reflected on King’s work. This year we invited Michael Blair, General Secretary of the General Council of the United Church of Canada. He reflected on King the preacher and theologian, and the dismantling of systems. We were blessed. There are many sources out in the community and in other churches who are willing to give support. Please know that you are not venturing in new liturgical territory alone!

  • The Reverend Randy Williams is associate priest at Church of the Incarnation, Oakville.