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Last week on Wednesday, April 4, people of faith from around the country gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to honor Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Organized by the National Council of the Churches of Christ, the rally,  called “A.C.T. (Awaken, Confront, Transform) to End Racism,” and  subsequent activity will be just the beginning of a nationwide movement to combat racism through its Truth and Racial Justice Initiative. The week’s events “will be followed by an extensive program that will address racism in the areas of church life and practices, criminal, economic and social justice, civil and human rights, environmental justice, immigration, media, and education.”

Churches of all denominations participated, including many ELCA synods which sent busloads to attend.


The day began with a prayer and silent walk through the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.



After silently walking through the Memorial “Mountain of Despair,” we contemplated the stone of hope with the statue of Martin Luther King Jr.



.  The walk continued in silence for about a mile to the Washington Mall where the rally was held.



The rally began with an interfaith worship service led by representatives of many religious communities.

Throughout the day there were speeches from religious and community leaders of many faiths and organizations.




Some of the keynote speakers were the Rev. Jim Wallis, Lou Gossett, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Danny Glover, DeRay McKesson, and many others.  Re17

There was also music and dance performances.


There was also music and dance performances.

The themes moved from confessing and confronting racism to commitment and call to action.



Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was present at the rally and was a planned speaker, however, a rainstorm required many speakers to be cancelled in order to end the rally early.  Bishop Eaton could be seen, however, mingling among the crowds and was even giving out water at the ELCA tent.

Photo thanks to ELCA

Photo thanks to ELCA

I visited the National Cathedral the following day.  The very last sermon Martin Luther King Jr.  gave was in this Cathedral on March 31, 1968.  They played part of his sermon on the audio tour and he said

“For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

MLK: Remembering his sermon at Washington National Cathedral

The challenge now is how to move from speeches and rallies to doing the hard work of working to change systems that keep us all from being the people of God we are called to be.


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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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