60 years on: the legacy of Martin Luther King's first London sermon
On 29 October 1961, Martin Luther King Jr preached in the UK for the first time. He had been invited to speak at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church as part of a flying visit to London which included an anti-apartheid rally and some TV interviews.
Now 60 years on, the church is hosting an event to explore the ongoing significance of his message for the UK.
In the sermon Dr King spoke of the "Three Dimensions of the Complete Life", using the image of a city shaped like a cube from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, and he used this as a metaphor to call people to live lives of equal length, breadth, and height.
He said that a “long” life is one where a person’s talents are harnessed and developed to the full, a “broad” life has an outgoing concern for the welfare of others, and a life of “height” recognises the need for transcendence as the pinnacle of a complete life, and that personal and humanitarian concerns are too small without this third dimension.
Bloomsbury minister Simon Woodman describes Dr King’s address 60 years ago as ‘one of his most memorable and prophetic speeches.’
The event on 29 October – the anniversary of the sermon - will explore how Dr King’s speeches and writings continue to speak to the issues of racial injustice, economic and social inequality, poverty, violence, and hope for world peace that shape the 21st century British context.
The afternoon session (2-5pm) will include lectures and panel discussion, exploring the British legacy and reception of Dr King’s message, with expert speakers reflecting on the ongoing relevance of the challenges that he brought, in the light of the continued reality of racism in our contemporary context.
The evening session (7-9pm) will include an opportunity to hear an extract from Dr King’s sermon, ‘The Three Dimensions of the Complete Life’. The evening will also include creative responses to the issues the sermon raises, exploring how we can examine our role in society in the midst of vast material wealth, prevailing inequality, the refugee crisis, social divides, ethnic and cultural tensions, and questions about social inclusion and exclusion.
Confirmed contributors are:
Richard Reddie, Director of Justice and Inclusion, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI)
Dr Hannah Elias, Lecturer in Black British History, Goldsmith's College, University of London.
Professor Anthony G. Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, Regent’s Park College, Oxford.
Revd Dr Simon Woodman, Minister, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
Impact Dance! Hip-Hop Theatre Company, Street Dance Organisation and Educational Facilitator, now based at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.
Emmanuel Gotora, Lead Organiser, TELCO & North London Citizens
Ife Thompson, community- based activist, writer, Human Rights Defender and Barrister and the founder of two civil society organisations; BLAM UK and Black Protest Legal Support UK
For more reflections from Baptist minister Simon Woodman on the Martin Luther King 1961 sermon, visit Citizens UK