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.

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.