Presiding bishop to speak at King Center celebration as nation honors Martin Luther King Jr.

By David Paulsen
Posted Jan 13, 2022
MLK at Berkeley

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a crowd of about 5,000 outside Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkley, on May 17, 1967. Photo: Associated Press

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be the keynote speaker Jan. 17 at the annual Martin Luther King Day observance organized by the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, as Episcopalians prepare to join citizens around the United States in remembering the civil rights icon on the holiday that bears his name.

The King Center, founded by King’s family after his 1968 assassination, has scheduled a week’s worth of activities to commemorate King’s birthday and celebrate his legacy. All of the events will be accessible online, as will the Beloved Community Commemorative Service from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Jan. 17. Curry will be among the limited number of participants speaking at that event in person. Others include Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

“We often ask ourselves how the life and legacy of people like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. remain relevant in our current moment, and it would be difficult to overstate how much we need King’s prophetic witness right now,” Curry said in a written statement to Episcopal News Service. “From his tireless advocacy for the right of all Americans to vote, to his model of faith animating nonviolent work for justice, King calls us to continue his work — and to truly labor for the realization of God’s Beloved Community.”

King was born 93 years ago on Jan. 15, 1929. As a Baptist preacher in Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, he was the leading voice and icon of the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and 1960s, and in the last years of his life, he also spoke against economic injustice and the Vietnam War. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, during a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to support city sanitation workers who were striking for better pay and working conditions.

As in past years, dioceses and congregations across The Episcopal Church are organizing, hosting and participating in a variety of worship services and other public events honoring the civil rights leader.

King preached his final Sunday sermon four days before his death at Washington National Cathedral. This year, the cathedral will celebrate King’s life at Holy Eucharist at 11:15 a.m. Eastern Jan. 16, with a sermon by Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Prayer Breakfast. It will be livestreamed on the cathedral’s YouTube channel. In addition, the cathedral will host a service for students of its three Episcopal schools at 9 a.m. Jan. 18 featuring King’s 13-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King.

On Jan. 15, a luncheon honoring King will be sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians chapter in Jacksonville, Florida, and hosted by St. John’s Cathedral. Civil rights activist Rodney Hurst Sr. is the featured speaker.

The Diocese of Los Angeles will hold an online service honoring King at 4 p.m. Pacific Jan. 15. Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor will be the celebrant, and Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson will preach. It will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Episcopal diocese has partnered with the local synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to organize an ecumenical tribute to King. It will be held at 4 p.m. Eastern Jan. 16 at Pittsburgh’s Berkley Hills Lutheran Church. The service will include in-person attendance and will be livestreamed.

The Diocese of Arizona is promoting “Let Justice Roll,” a celebration of King’s life and vision, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Chandler. The event at 5 p.m. Mountain Jan. 16 will feature music and readings from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Also in Atlanta, All Saints’ Episcopal Church will welcome guest preacher Luther Smith, a retired professor of church and community from Emory University at its worship services on Jan. 16. Afterward, a group will embark on a pilgrimage to the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, which includes King’s birth home.

To begin the Jan. 17 holiday, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and Union United Methodist Church in Boston, Massachusetts, will host their 52nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast. Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and Harvard Law School professor, will speak at the 9 a.m. Eastern event. It will be held online, with registration in advance.

New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche will preside at an online service at 10 a.m. Eastern Jan. 17 as part of a Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Bronx. The Rev. Robert Jemonde Taylor from Raleigh, North Carolina, will preach, and donations will be collected for the MLK Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The Diocese of Georgia, led by St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Savanna, will participate in that city’s Martin Luther King Day Parade on Jan. 17, followed by a short worship service at the church.

The Maine Council of Churches, of which the Diocese of Maine is a member, is offering an online event at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Jan. 17 called “Committed to Listen” that will include a reading of King’s National Cathedral sermon, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Those wishing to participate should register here.

The dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania are organizing a five-hour prayer vigil on the King holiday titled “Embodied Peacemaking,” to be held online from noon to 5 p.m. Eastern.

“In 1963, Dr. King specifically addressed the apathy of white Christians and why African Americans could no longer wait for justice,” Gabrie’l Atchison, administration missioner for the two-diocese partnership, said in a news release. “Now, many decades later and one year after the death of George Floyd, what steps do we need to take as leaders of the Christian church to become the Beloved Community that Dr. King called us to be?”

The King holiday also is celebrated across the country as a day of service, designated by Congress and coordinated by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Some churches have service projects planned to coincide with the holiday. St. James’ Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, Virginia, is organizing a canned food drive. All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, will provide a meal and activities for seniors. And in Fayetteville, Arkansas, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church invites people to meet in the afternoon to participate in projects that support Black-led organizations in the community.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at