by The Rev. Jon Hulinger
The 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Celebration in Atchison are only one part of the most recent chapter of the story of Dr. King’s legacy and impact on our city and her faith communities. That story of course began nearly 70 years ago when The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King brought the Civil Rights movement to National prominence in the 1950s.
However, that story took a significant turn, and brought the congregations of Atchison together for a very special purpose when on January 20, 1986, Martin Luther King Day was celebrated for the first time as National Holiday and the Atchison Ministerial Alliance hosted its first annual Martin Luther King Day March and Celebration.
I first participated in this yearly remembrance on January 18, 2016, just a few months after officially assuming my duties at Trinity, Atchison. It was November 1st, All Saints Day, 2015. The same day that Bishop Michael Curry was installed as our new Presiding Bishop. In his installation homily Bishop Curry reminded The Episcopal Church that the 78th General Convention had elected him to be the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church and the first African-American to fill that position. The Church also made the remarkable commitment to live into being the Jesus Movement by pledging to evangelism and the work of reconciliation—beginning with racial reconciliation. He told us, “It is as the Jesus Movement, following Jesus’ way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions…”. Those words were still echoing in my mind when I attended my first Atchison Ministerial Alliance meeting and learned of the events that were being planned for that day.
I don’t know how much credit to give to our General Convention or Bishop Curry’s leadership, but it seems safe to say that since we have been given the charge to more intentionally follow Jesus’ Way of Love and to incorporate the seven spiritual practices for Jesus-centered living in the life of our parish, we have witnessed the Holy Spirit working in amazing ways to bring about racial reconciliation and healing in Atchison.
Atchison’s MLK Day celebration has continued to grow and thrive even in the midst of a pandemic. For the past two years The Atchison Ministerial Alliance has partnered with the Benedictine College and its Black Student Union in hosting both the march and the worship service, which is also supported by Atchison United, a group formed in May of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd to bring the community together and promote diversity, unity, and tolerance.
In the past few years Atchison High School has renamed its mascot, the City changed the name of Division Street to Unity Street, and the community came together to acknowledge and commemorate the horrific lynching of George Johnson with a walk of tears and the co-unveilings of the Community Remembrance Project national historical marker for George Johnson and the sculpture “Reflections” by Kansas City artist David Breneman.
I have seen incredible reconciliation, healing, and growth take place in Atchison since coming here. And I can’t wait to see how the story of our community continues to unfold as we walk Jesus’ Way of Love.