Prayers to Celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The talented pastor at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia had this great idea to focus the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Sunday in January (which appears to be sooner than I’d like to admit) on a reflection of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I promised I would gather him some resources because I’m eager to help but Michael likes to write his own things so I’m only offering fragments here that he can piece together on his own. Still, you might be interested in using these too as we celebrate the life of such an inspirational man. There are some lovely tributes including this one from the Dalai Lama and this one from the National Civil Rights Museum. Most others reminded tweet-size like this one by Bernice King. (And I just love the picture she chose.)

There are also a ton of wonderful things that connect the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There is this wonderful essay by Charles Krauthammer that names Tutu as King’s “natural heir.” In 1986, Tutu received the Martin Luther King Award.

The New Yorker published this wonderful article Remembering Desmond Tutu’s Hope that might inspire a sermon. He wrote so many books that have been transformative that it would be hard to pick one theme or one quote to highlight from his immense wisdom. There was even a new book released earlier in 2021 exploring the depth of his faith, entitled Desmond Tutu: A Spiritual Biography of South Africa’s Confessor. In our house, we are big fans of his children’s book God’s Dream. My girls also love the Children of God Storybook Bible he released around the same time but I’d be inclined to share God’s Dream with the children.

Forgiveness was, of course, a big theme in his books and so this Prayer Before the Prayer that the Archbishop shared on his Facebook page in 2014 might be an important prayer to share as we commit again to truth and reconciliation. Another prayer that might be highlighted in your worship is this Prayer for the Children of God by the Archbishop. He did publish An African Prayer Book though I can’t find any prayers from it in the public domain. I really like this prayer entitled Disturb Us O Lord as a confession that seems to speak to the injustices that both Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. worked so hard against in their lifetimes — and hopefully it is justice work we are committed to continuing even if we need a little reminder and nudge to keep going. I really hoped to find a prayer from his funeral earlier this week but I can’t seem to locate one in my search. There is, however, this prayer Grieving Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Maren Tirabassi.

I struggled to find more information about this composition by James Whitbourn from 2004 entitled A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. I can only surmise that was written to be performed by the choristers of Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day. The text is written by the Archbishop though. I did find that. It appears that you can purchase sheet music for this original composition here if your choir is feeling ambitious though there are several versions on YouTube that come with the caveat that streaming from YouTube is not a good idea.

The last piece I found for your worship celebrating this wonderful man is this collaboration with John Bell entitled Goodness is Stronger Than Evil. It is published in the United Methodist’s The Faith We Sing so there is a complete history here. Hymnary also indicates in the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God that includes an audio recording that can be purchased from Hymnary here.

That’s all I have got right now. I’m praying for you, as always.

Please also share what words from the Archbishop you might share in your worship celebrations. There is an abundance of goodness and I’d be curious to hear what you choose from his writings.