A View from the Pew: Remembering MLK at Church

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It seems counterintuitive that worship planners have to be careful how to handle the annual national holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but they do.

Any day honoring a man, even one who made a lasting impact on society, can be complicated. Dr. King possessed a combination of heroic traits and human frailties, as do we all, that we must by mindful of while planning this Sunday’s service of worship.

In services I’ve attended in the past, Dr. King’s legacy has most often been referenced in a prayer. While that’s a start, there are more varied and creative ways to acknowledge the civil rights leader’s impact without veering into idolatry or oversimplifying his messages.

Here are five suggestions as you think about worship on January 20 and future MLK Day weekend services:

1. Litany. Early in my church’s service each week, we participate in a litany. There are a number of well thought out responsive readings and litanies available online that highlight the life and legacy of Dr. King. This would be easy and not too dramatic a shift for those churches that have not traditionally acknowledged the day.

2. Reading a sermon. In addition to our regular practice of reading Scripture, it would be nice to include a reading of an excerpt from one of Dr. King’s sermons. Belief Net posted a nice list online complete with links if you are looking for a starting point. A thoughtful selection of Dr. King’s own words would be more eloquent than almost anything you could say about him or his legacy.

3. Prayers of the People. Many worship planners include a portion of the service for a corporate prayer on behalf of and for members of the congregation. In the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy, you could call on three to five members of your church to voice a brief prayer for civil rights in the United States and around the world. Don’t coach those offering the prayers too much. The prayers should be brief but in their authentic voices.

4. Pulpit swap. Churches from various denominations and traditions often participate in a swap of their pastors for such holidays as Thanksgiving or Easter, but scheduling a pulpit swap with an African-American congregation near the King holiday could provide a relevant and meaningful change in voice from the pulpit. Both congregations would benefit from hearing a different perspective.

5. Day of Service. Enjoying a day off work is how most people, including church goers, commemorate MLK Day, but having a church-wide day of service during that weekend would do more to capture the spirit of the day. Selecting from among your church’s usual ministry partners is fine, but if possible, engage in a cross-cultural local ministry. Then provide an opportunity for members to reflect and share on the experience.

However your church chooses to remember Dr. King and honor his legacy, may you keep his ideals alive with your actions every day.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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