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The North American Dean’s Conference has provided an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with other deans from across North America. It was held at the Washington National Cathedral or as it is officially known, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. On a practical level, it has also provided an opportunity to learn about and experience the beauty of the National Cathedral. 

One highlight for me has been the Canterbury Pulpit. It is a massive pulpit carved from stone left over from the building of Bell Harry Tower at Canterbury Cathedral, gifted from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishop of Washington, Edward Satterlee. Carvings on the pulpit include King John forced to sign the Magna Carta, the Venerable Bede on his deathbed translating John’s Gospel into Anglo-Saxon, and Bishop William Tyndale being burned at the stake by King Henry the Eighth for translating the Bible into English. 

Many esteemed preachers, such as Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama and Billy Graham, have delivered a sermon from its precipices. However, none are more storied than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who preached his final Sunday sermon from here 4 days before he was martyred in Memphis Tennesse. That Sunday attracted the largest crowd the Cathedral had ever seen, with thousand spilling outside and listening through loudspeakers set up for that day.

Dr. King’s sermon highlighted the country’s widespread poverty and the urgent need to address it. He denounced the evil of racism and he challenged those individuals who said we just needed to give it time for racial healing to occur, stressing instead the need for action now. King said: “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.” Throughout the sermon he challenged those in the pews to yield the temptation to wait for someone else to do the work, or for someone else to put their bodies on the line for justice. King said, “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” Dr. King then spoke outside of the Cathedral where he warned that if social unrest continued, it would lead to a right-wing takeover of the United States. 

Standing in front of the majesty of the pulpit one can almost hear the fiery tones of Dr. King calling us down a better path for humanity. Exorting us to be active co-creators with God in building for the Kingdom instead of passive observers of the World as it Is.

Below is the video of that sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King. At the top of this post you can see more photos from my time exploring the Cathedral.