Commemoration of the Life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Diocese of Virginia
A Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Virginia:
AN AMERICAN MARTYR: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
Dear Diocesan Clergy,
The 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will occur on April 4 of this year. Of course, Dr. King’s story is now deeply woven into our hearts and minds. The pre-eminent leader of the Civil Rights movement, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his prophetic and courageous ministry. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, at age 39 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers in their struggle for better wages.
Dr. King’s life was devoted to encouraging all in America to stand up for equality, justice, and peace. He wielded those tenets of the Gospel to lead a nonviolent movement in the late 1950s and 60s that sought to end racism and provide for legal equality for African-Americans, to end economic injustices, and to oppose international conflict. He is enshrined as a “Modern Martyr” in England’s Canterbury Cathedral, one of only two Americans so honored, the other being Jonathan Daniels, the Episcopal seminarian who died protecting a young African-American girl from a shotgun blast (you may remember that the Diocese of Virginia commemorated the 50th anniversary of Daniels’ martyrdom in 2015). Dr. King’s words inspired Jonathan Daniels, and they continue to inspire those who seek justice and an end to inequality around the world.
Therefore, I am permitting, and indeed strongly encouraging, churches across our diocese to designate Sunday, April 8, being the Sunday closest to Dr. King’s day on our Church calendar, as our diocesan-wide commemoration of the life and legacy of one of our nation’s most inspiring witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the diocesan website, you will find complete details and materials for your congregation's worship service marking this occasion.
Fifty years later, we know that Dr. King’s dream of equality and opportunity for men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, is rooted in the knowledge that we are all God’s children. We also know the dream is not yet realized for all. So, let us reflect upon, honor, and, with courage, follow the example of a man who showed us how to live into our Baptismal Covenant. May doing so help us grow in love and become the “beloved community” he hoped would be achieved.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
XIII Bishop of Virginia