Pandemic Prayers for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday

I have been thinking about this tweet since I saw it.

I don’t think that I’m selling a brand. I hope not. That’s not what I’m aiming to do but I know I haven’t uplifted the voices of people of color in a meaningful way. I haven’t kept demanding justice when it is still so needed. Pleading with God in my private prayer isn’t enough. God has no hands but our own.

This is also what has bothered me about this Sunday. I serve a white denomination. I have been a part of and led very, very white churches where this might be the one Sunday a year that we talk about diversity. That was the word used in my first call. It was a day for diversity, not racism. Not the unique experience of black and brown people or even the poor people that ultimately got the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated. It was a Sunday for diversity.

Diversity is great, but it’s not the point. Last year, in the midst of a global pandemic, George Floyd was killed. Riots erupted around the world. Riots is a bad word. Good white people prefer the word protest but rioting is what causes the National Guard to respond. Rioting is what causes people to die in the streets. Rioting is what happens when we have confined ourselves that racism is a thing of the past. Racism defined the past year as much as the pandemic as this gorgeous choir makes clear.

Auld Lang Syne is covered by the CCLI license but it is not clear if this particular recording would be included.

I want to suggest that this year we do better. I want to do more than suggest it but I’m still a nice white girl. We don’t just make this the one Sunday we talk about racism in our very, very white churches. We commit to somehow keeping this dialogue going even when so many of our faithful balk at any confrontation of their privilege. I know, dear pastor. I remember what it was like to lead those conversations and patiently listen to their rant as I tried to find the light of Christ in their heart. I remember.

Don’t let that stop you from signing up for a class by Austin Channing Brown or leading a group study on Zoom around Sandhya Jha’s Pre-Post Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines. Sandhya is also looking forward to an amazing online learning opportunity based on that book in Rise Up for Racial Justice: Resources and Strategies for Your Personal Journey. Or if you have already read all of these books and are looking forward to what Sandhya might inspire us with next, your might invest in their future work to connect racial justice and our relationships with our ancestors’ wisdom by becoming a patron at their patreon account. 

You might even choose to engage with the author of the above tweet in reading his book Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S..

Or you might make this the focus on Lent using the liturgies of confession and repentance curated by the Disrupt Worship Project.

There are tons of wonderful resources out there. Choose something. Do it and then choose another.

Imagine this Sunday as an opportunity for storytelling. I have always been surprised in the congregations I’ve served to learn who was there at Selma and the March on Washington. In each of the congregations I’ve served, there were people there fighting that fight and witnessing to that possibility that we still have not realized. This Sunday, I’d be inclined to give them the floor. I’d use Psalm 139 as the central text. I might opt for reading verses 1 through 18 rather than omitting the bit that the Revised Common Lectionary suggests. I’d begin by sharing in hearing the first six verses and then I’d ask someone that had marched to answer two questions in reflection:

  • How did you rise up to learn about racial justice?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. I’d be inclined to use the prayer and not the preceding quote but would be careful not to edit the prayer otherwise. In these prayers, especially in white congregations, our purpose is not to edit away discomfort.

You could repeat this pattern by reading verses 7-12 of Psalm 139 and then asking another voice to answer these questions rooted in the psalm. Maybe you don’t have as many people who marched in the movement then. Maybe you choose someone who protested last year or a youth eager to dismantle white supremacy. Questions for reflection might be:

  • Where did you first find God in your anti-racism work?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. Again, I’d skip the quote and focus on the unedited prayer.

A final voice might reflect on the following questions after sharing verses 13-18 of the Psalm.

  • What has God shown you about what it means be fearfully and wonderfully made in struggle with white supremacy?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. Again, I’d skip the quote and focus on the unedited prayer. If you use these prayers, please consider becoming an Official Patreon to Cole Arthur Riley’s stunning work.

You could use this litany against white supremacy by the Disrupt Worship Project as the Prayers of the People. Or you might find prayers from this liturgy written years ago helpful to framing your worship for this Sunday. You might even conclude worship with this song from Common Hymnal.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am always praying for you.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Prayers for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday

    1. Yes. This is a great clarification. I had thought about asking community members and particularly asking people of color to be the speakers but that seems like a lot of work for our tired clergy in only a few days. But if those relationships already exist and it is possible broaden the circle, please do. My only caution would be to remember that as white people we have our own work to do and that might mean that hearing “from our own” is a wiser first step.

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