During July, I attended a teacher workshop on the history and stories of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama, my hometown. While tracing the development of the city once known as Bombingham, we focussed on the pivotal year of 1963 and the events here which changed the world. One of those moments was the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. This African-American church was at the center of the local movement, hosting meetings and marches. At 10:22 am on Sunday, September 15, a bomb planted by white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan ripped through the side of the church. Many people were hurt. Four young girls were killed: Addie Mae Collins (14 years old), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Denise McNair (11). It was Youth Sunday and they were preparing to join their friends and lead the service. The church lesson that day was “The Love that Forgives.”
Fifty years later, September 15th is once again on a Sunday. As the city of Birmingham has held commemorations throughout the year on how far we have come, local churches are planning their September 15th church service around the same theme interrupted on that horrific day. While some churches may focus on the specific Civil Rights significance of the day and others may look at Civil Rights in a broader sense, we are building services on “The Love that Forgives.” I am on a mission to share this opportunity and invite you to use this theme at your church and share this information with your friends and neighbors, near and far, so that we may all uphold the power of this love as we continue overcoming hate and oppression throughout the world.
We have gathered together some resources for use in crafting your Sunday School and worship service including the original International Sunday School lesson…shared in the PDF below through gracious permission for Abingdon Press (all rights reserved) .
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “[T]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” How powerful to bend with you all on September 15th!
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
Some information listed below but this is a PDF of the Compiled Resources: (updated 8/31/2013)
Love that Forgives
See also my 8/31/2013 post The Love that Forgives…
The Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, September 15, 2013:
Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28 (All of creation will suffer for Israel’s unfaithfulness.)
Psalm 14 (Fools say in their hearts that there is no God.)
1 Timothy 1:12–17 (Paul writes of Christ’s grace made evident in his own life.)
Luke 15:1–10 (Jesus tells of the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.)
Isaiah 40:4-11 (Every valley shall be lifted up…The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever…He will gather the lambs in His arms)
Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16 (My refuge and my fortress.)
Galatians 3:23-29 (…There is no longer Jew or Greek…)
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 (…the conviction of things not seen)
2 Peter 3:8-15a (…while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by Him at peace…)
Matthew 5:43-48 (…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.)
John 1:1-5 (The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.)
Luke 23:34 (Father, forgive them for they know not..) This was the text for that date in 1963 and was the basis for the Sunday School lesson, the Youth Sunday worship service, and the sermon to be delivered by Reverend Cross. The explosion happened just at the end of Sunday School. While the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church have artifacts, it seems most of the documents relating to the lesson and service were lost on that day. We are working to locate the Sunday School lesson…
Prayers from African-Americans in History
This site has beautiful prayers by W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Coretta Scott King and others.
From The Book of Common Prayer / The Episcopal Church (1979):
For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.
For the Unity of the Church
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For Social Justice
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
An Affirmation of Faith Based on the Writings of Dr. King
(various locations on the internet but this one accessed from: http://www.godweb.org/kingprayers.htm on August 6, 2013)
I refuse to believe that we are unable to influence the events which surround us.
I refuse to believe that we are so bound to racism and war, that peace, brotherhood and sisterhood are not possible.
I believe there is an urgent need for people to overcome oppression and violence, without resorting to violence and oppression.
I believe that we need to discover a way to live together in peace, a way which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of this way is love.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. I believe that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
I believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
I believe that what self-centered people have torn down, other-centered people can build up.
By the goodness of God at work within people, I believe that brokenness can be healed. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.”
— The United Presbyterian Church
Grace and Race Litany
from Rev. Renee Williams-Thomas, December 2008
Prayers and Liturgies for Race and Justice
from the United Church of Christ, Massachusetts Conference
Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson — considered “The African-American National Anthem”
Jesus Loves the Little Children by Clare Herbert Woolston — Another moment that brought tears to my eyes was when I learned that the bricks chosen to build the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the sidewalk of its neighbor Kelly Ingram Park are red, yellow, black and white.
What Wondrous Love Is This attributed to Alexander Means
Lord, You Give the Great Commission (based on Luke 23:34) by Jeffery W. Rowthorn
Love Lifted Me by James Rowe
God So Loved by Chris Eaton
Let Justice Roll Down — There are many versions of this hymn/song but I particularly love the one by Doug Romanow that we sing at Montreat Youth Conference.
Birmingham Sunday by Joan Baez
A Love that Forgives by Caleb Hughes
video production by Russell Standridge (note: Opening screen states time of the blast incorrectly; it was NOT 10:55–it happened at 10:22 am central time.)
I will be posting my sermon script by September 1. If you like to craft your own, I suggest that you tread carefully in describing the events of September 15. Children dying is a horror any time, but children being murdered in church is certainly unsettling. I don’t want to gloss over the event or deny the evil of that day, but I will work to focus on being a positive force for all of God’s children.
Sunday School Lesson:
We are currently working on obtaining the actual Sunday School Lesson “A Love that Forgives.” We will post it or a link to it here as soon as it is located.
At 10:22 am central time, church bells across Birmingham will ring for four minutes, one for the life of each girl killed in the church bombing. If your church does not have a BIG church bell, provide little bells for each member of the congregation to ring.
Other Informational Links:
Carolyn McKinstry’s website — present at the church bombing and author of While the World Watched (2011)
More to come…but what ideas do you have?