Resources for Remembering Rosa Parks and Other Prophets

by Taylor Burton-Edwards and Safiyah Fosua

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was a lifelong Methodist in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and she maintained close ties through her life to congregations in Montgomery, Alabama, Detroit, Michigan, and Los Angeles, California.

As members with her in the larger family of Methodists, it is right and good for us to find appropriate ways to remember her in worship, either on the weekend following her death (October 24, 2005), on All Saints Day (November 1) or Sunday (November 6, 2005, or the nearest Sunday after November 1 in other years), in a community memorial service, or on the anniversary of her bold witness in Montgomery, Alabama, that led to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement (December 1, 1955).

However your congregation chooses to remember Rosa Parks, be sure that your Sunday worship focuses clearly on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith and hers.

A Devotional Reflection
(This may be set as a separate page in a Sunday bulletin for centering prayer, as a separate slide in a projected presentation, or as a discussion starter for a small group or Sunday school class.)

Who Knows?

Who knows what signal,
what internal sentry,
prodded Rosa to sit when the bus driver said: "Get up and move."

Was it her aching feet as some have said?
Was it her pounding head that could not wrap itself around the concept of such inequality?
Or was it her aching heart, bruised from years of injury, compounded with interest?

Perhaps, it was just impossible for her to walk any longer with the spiny pebble of injustice in her shoe, in her life, in her spirit.

Only God knows the signal,
the sentry,
the prod required for each of us.

Oh God, let there be enough feeling left in me to feel your nudging when it comes.

A Collect for Prophets

Almighty God, you have blessed the world from time to time with courageous women and men who lived your will by challenging the powers of injustice, war, and oppression and by building new communities of understanding, reconciliation, and truth. Grant that our hearts, sparked by the example of (Rosa Parks… and) all your prophets, may be ignited into a holy flame that transforms our lives and the world around us into a blazing sign of your saving love and power; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Responsive Call to Reflection
(May be used as a response to the Word)

In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, African-Americans were required to sit in the back section of buses; and if all seats in the "white" section in the front of the bus were taken, African-Americans were required to give their seats in their section to white people.

Numerous African-American people had been arrested and jailed in Montgomery for violating this law.

Rosa Parks, at the end of a long day of work on December 1, 1955, refused to relinquish her seat in the African-American section of one of these buses. When the bus driver threatened to call the police, she simply said, "Go ahead and call them."

Rosa Parks stood up to powers of injustice and oppression on that bus on that day, ready to suffer whatever consequences it might bring.

Give us eyes to see the injustice and oppression where we live today and the courage to suffer the consequences of standing for what is right.

When the police arrived, they asked the bus driver to consider not pressing charges, which would require an arrest, but allowing the police simply to issue a notice of warning. The bus driver insisted on pressing charges. Rosa Parks was arrested and jailed.

Lord, the forces of evil are insistent on achieving what they want. Grant us strength to be even more insistent about achieving what you want.

After her arrest, Rosa Parks was given one phone call. She called E.D. Nixon of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP, where she served in the office as a secretary. Nixon saw the opportunity to use this situation to challenge the segregation laws. Rosa Parks agreed to undergo the court process to see this through.

Injustice rarely ends with a few isolated cases; it remains lurking in the systems, ready to harm others when it has the chance.

Give us persistence in our work for justice, so that we will not rest until the systems that create injustice are permanently changed.

Word of Rosa Parks' arrest and her suit against segregation laws inspired the action of others, notably Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead a bus boycott to show that segregation laws were bad, both morally and economically. The boycott lasted 381 days. The bus system was nearly bankrupt, and the laws changed.

Lord, we confess the narrowness of our usual approaches to social change. Help us to remember to involve all "sectors" of our lives — business, government, non-profit, education, families, and religion — for injustice in any sector affects them all.

Rosa Parks left Montgomery in 1957 and moved with her husband to Detroit. There, in time, she joined the staff of U.S. Rep. John Conyers. She continued to be asked to speak on behalf of civil rights issues for years to come. In 1987, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, and she piloted a program called "Pathways to Freedom" that takes 11-17 year-olds on extended, hands-on educational tours of the historic sites of the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement all around the United States and Canada. From 1987-1997, she accompanied these journeys herself. With chapters in Michigan and California, the Institute has touched the lives of thousands of youth from the United States, Africa, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia, Canada, China, El Salvador, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Jamaica, Japan and Kosovo.

Social change requires intense personal investment and the creation of systems designed to work for change for years — not days or months — so that generations — not just a few — may be blessed.

Lord, help us to build not just ideas and enthusiasm, but long-range personal commitment and the community systems that make for peace and build up the common life. Amen.

Prayers of the People
(Especially for October 30, 2005)

With all our hearts and minds and voices, let us pray to the Lord, saying, "Lord, stand by me!"

With those who lead your church that they may have the courage to stand the ground you have given them, the voice that will be heard by those they lead, and the wisdom to find and follow your way, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions for leaders of the church.

With those who lead in the governments, corporations, and organizations of the world around us that in the midst of competing calls to loyalty, they may heed your call to all humanity to work for justice, freedom, and peace, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions for leaders in the world.

With those who face raging rivers that block their paths, that we may have the courage to believe that you will make a way for us and those who follow us, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions.

With those who face famine, war, persecution, epidemics, the ravages of storms, earthquake, landslides and other human and natural disasters, that you may be our strength and shield and that we may be abundant channels of your deliverance, love, and care, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions.

With those who labor and with those seeking employment, that we may never grow weary in well-doing, but may live and work in ways that honor you, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions for workers.

With those who are weary, sick, or dying, that in their suffering they may find your healing love and strength, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions.

With those who do not know you, those who are seeking you, and those who seem to be blinded to your ways, that you may use us and those around us to share the good news of your saving love by our words and deeds, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions.

With all who have died in the fellowship of your church, especially Rosa Parks, (add names of those who have died recently in your congregation or community), and those whose faith is known to you alone, that their lives with you will continue to fulfill the work of your kingdom in heaven and on earth, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!

The congregation may add petitions.

With one another in this congregation, that we may commit ourselves to lift the burdens of others, to show respect and honor to all we meet, and to be students of Jesus and servants of all, we pray to you, O Lord:

Lord, stand by me!


Jesus, Messiah, hear our prayers. Spirit, Instructor, come and teach us. Heavenly Father, receive us, restore us, and send us out to be your faithful people. Amen.

A Confession of Sin

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to present themselves before God as living sacrifices.

Almighty God, today we confess that we have not been so willing to sacrifice.
We have preferred comfort, convenience and safety over the need to stand up for what we believe
or to sit down and to refuse to move until justice comes.
We confess that we have been all too willing to let others do what all of us should do.
We confess fear for physical safety.

We thank you, O God, for the example of Rosa Parks,
born a black woman in the old South,
where it was once both acceptable and legal
to discriminate against blacks and women.

We thank you for her example of courage and faith;
and we pray that when opportunity presents itself,
we might respond with similar courage and similar faith. Amen.

At Communion
While in no case should significant additional material memorializing specific people be added to the Great Thanksgiving, there are two places in the "generic" Great Thanksgiving where the naming of specific people may be appropriate. The first is in the words before the Sanctus, as follows:

"And so, with your people on earth,
(Name) and all the company of heaven,
We praise your name and join their unending hymn.

The second — and better place —is in the prayer after the Epiclesis as follows:

"By your Spirit, make us one with Christ,
one with each other, and one in ministry,
until Christ comes in final victory,
and, with (Name) and all your saints,
we feast at his heavenly banquet.

See also "The Great Thanksgiving for All Saints and Memorial Occasions," in The United Methodist Book of Worship (pages 74-75), which includes an additional prayer after the Epiclesis to remember people who have died.

Taylor Burton-Edwards is Director of Worship Resources for the Discipleship Ministries. Safiyah Fosua is the Director of Invitational Preaching Ministries for the Discipleship Ministries.

Selections from "Word and Table II" quoted above Copyright © 1989 by the United Methodist Publishing House. Used with permission.

Copyright © 2005 by The United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203. Telephone: 877-899-2780, ext 7072. E-mail: [email protected]. Worship website: Permission is granted to download, adapt, edit, copy, and use in local church or home worship with the inclusion of the entire copyright citation above on each copy. It may not be sold, republished, used for profit, or otherwise placed on a website.

Categories: Lectionary Calendar, Civil Observances