July 21: Albert John Luthuli, Prophetic Witness in South Africa, 1967

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About this commemoration

Albert John Luthuli
Albert John Luthuli

Mvumbi Luthuli was the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
in recognition of his leadership in South Africa’s non-violent struggle
against apartheid. A man of noble bearing, charitable, intolerant of
hatred, and adamant in his demands for equality and peace among
all men, Luthuli forged a philosophical compatibility between two
cultures—the Zulu culture of his native Africa and the Christian
democratic culture of Europe.

Born into a Christian family around the turn of the twentieth century,
Luthuli was educated in mission schools, took a college degree in
Durban, and spent the first fifteen years of his working life as a school
teacher before taking on the responsibilities of political activism. In
1936, he was elected a Zulu chief and was made responsible for a
five thousand person community in the sugar lands of Natal. This led
to a number of other elected and appointed positions related to the
struggle for civil rights in South Africa, culminating in his election
as President of the Natal region of the African National Congress in
1945, becoming National President in 1952.

Luthuli’s increasing prominence as a leader of the anti-apartheid
movement was met with significant resistance by the white South
African government. His movements were restricted, his publications
banned, and he was imprisoned on several occasions.

Luthuli believed the struggle for civil rights was a Christian struggle
and his participation and leadership grew out of his understanding
of Christian discipleship. “My own urge because I am a Christian, is
to get into the thick of the struggle with other Christians, taking my
Christianity with me and praying that it may be used to influence for
good the character of the resistance.” When confronted by the South
African government with an appeal to suspend his activism, Luthuli is
reported to have said, “The road to freedom is via the cross.”

Although Luthuli’s death in 1967 was nearly a quarter century before
the end of apartheid in South Africa, he is remembered as a Christian
statesman in the fight against political, racial, and religious oppression.


I Eternal God, we offer thanks for the witness of Chief
Luthuli, Nobel Laureate for Peace, who was sustained by
his Christian faith as he led the struggle against apartheid
in South Africa. Strengthen us, after his example, to make
no peace with oppression and to witness boldly for our
Deliverer, Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit
liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II Eternal God, we thank you for the witness of Chief
Luthuli, Nobel Laureate for Peace, who was sustained by
his Christian faith as he led the struggle against apartheid
in South Africa. Strengthen us, after his example, to make
no peace with oppression and to witness boldly for our
Deliverer, Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Numbers 20:9–11
Ephesians 2:12–17
John 16:25–33

Psalm 122

Preface of a Saint (2)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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23 thoughts on “July 21: Albert John Luthuli, Prophetic Witness in South Africa, 1967

  1. Bio: This first sentence is an excellent example of who the person is, and why we commemorate this person. IMHO all bios should begin in this laudable manner.

    Bio, 1st paragraph: “… for equality and peace among all men (sic)”. Probably, we could say “all people” to be more intentionally inclusive.

    Hebrew Reading: This snippet is only three verses long. Surely we can spare a verse of two more for this worthy Nobel Laureate.

  2. Might it be more appropriate in the Collect to delete the reference to the Nobel honor and simply call him a “peacemaker?” In prayer, honoring his accomplishments by referencing his incarnation of the principles of the Beatitudes grounds this liturgical text in scripture. I continue to see “Prophetic Witness” as too generic and suggest that “Peacemaker” be considered a category applicable to some of those honored in this collection.

  3. Just as a reaction to all of the changes in Holy Women, Holy Men, I am absolutely thrilled with this update. I have not always identified with martyrs of the first century, but I identify with men like this. Day after day as I meet new saints – brave faith-filled women and men I have never heard of in my limited scope, I am moved to tears by their dreams and struggles. Thank you for your work with this. Thank you for making this relevant to our lives today. For me at least, you have made the fabric of the Communion of the Saints so much more real.

    • Rick,

      Just a reminder…we need your first and last name in order to approve comments for posting. Please edit your comment or post your first and last name in reply.

      Thank you so much for participating in this conversation! We’re delighted that Holy Women, Holy Men is enriching to your faith.

      Beau Surratt
      SCLM Blog Team

  4. This note appears at the Nobel Prize website: “Lutuli preferred the spelling of his name used here, although the commonly employed spelling, “Luthuli” appears to be a closer phonetic rendering; he also preferred his Zulu name “Mvumbi” (continuous Rain) to that of Albert John. see Sensor, Chief Albert Lutuli of South Africa, p. 3.”

    There are so many worthy additions to the church calendar. Despite this man’s great accomplishments, not the least of which was to be the first black African to receive a Nobel Prize, I am not at all sure what he brings to the calendar that is not already there. Martin Luther King, Jr. is already on the caldendar. He is far better known to American Episcopalians than Mvumbi Lutuli.

    Suzanne Sauter

    • Too bad that there is not an edit function, since I hit the “post comment” before I meant to.

      I do not understand the connection between the short passage from Numbers about “The Waters of Meribah” and Mvumbi Lutuli. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you.

      Suzanne Sauter

  5. I appreciate this addition to the calendar – I think it’s helpful to have witnesses from around the world whose struggles mirror our own in this country. I think it’s also helpful for the growing (and strained) unity of the Anglican communion for us to see the witness of others whose lives help shape the provinces of our Communion.

    Personally, I would prefer commemorations of Anglicans where possible, but since Desmond Tutu is still with us in all his flesh and blood . . .

    How appropriate is it to designate Lutuli by his title in the Collect? That strikes me as a little bit like name dropping to God, but I haven’t compared with other commemorations to see how their titles are used.

    I’m fine with prophetic witness, because his tenure ended with a transition to a more violent phase of the anti-apartheid struggle and peace was definitely not seen in his time.

  6. I certainly don’t object to this celebration, and the more obvious Apartheid opponents are still alive.
    The Numbers reading is appropriate if you study it, for it speaks of Moses providing water, but not getting them out of the desert.. It is certainly not obvious
    I think we need to bear in mind the optional nature of black letter feasts, so if some think this is more about the fight against opression in Africa than they want, those persons can always not use it.

  7. When I read that Luthuli was a leader of the non-violent struggle against apartheid, I immediately thought of the passage from Luke (6:27-36) about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. The reading from John doesn’t work for me at all. Is it meant to point to the fulfillment of the apartheid struggle after Luthuli’s death?
    Does the Numbers reading refer to the fact that Mvumbi means continuous rain? Maybe I’m trying too hard to do some sort of prooftexting here. 😉

    Including Luthuli on the calendar is a good idea, I think.. I’ve put a call into the member of my congregation who lived in and near South Africa during his tenure and will let you all know what she thinks.

  8. About the celebrations– I read the Lectionary most days on my computer, and
    like learning about all these people near and far, both in time and in
    space. If I were responsible for deciding whether or not to observe a particular saint’s feast day in
    a service at church, it would be another thing. But I’m just a lay person
    reading the Lectionary on her own and I love doing this. Being
    able to comment on it -and read others’ comments–is especially rewarding.

  9. Will there be a commentary on Saint Mary Magdalene (July 22)? She’s not new to the calendar,
    but neither were Sojourner Truth et al, Macrina, William White, and Benedict of Nursia,

    • Hi Celinda,

      There won’t be a commentary on St. Mary Magdalene because that is a Prayer Book feast with appointed propers in the BCP. We’re only blogging the entries unique to Holy Women, Holy Men because those are what are up for trial use this triennium.

      Blessings, Beau

  10. Still confused–are Sojourner Truth et al, Macrina, William White, and Benedict of Nursia
    up for trial use this triennium? I ask because they were blogged.

    • Absolutely. It is all of the “lesser feasts” that we’re blogging and that are up for trial use. If you look at the calendar in “Holy Women, Holy Men,” it is everything except those feasts indicated in all capital letters. The ones in capital letters are major feasts, the propers for which are in the Book of Common Prayer and are thus not up for trial use.

      Blessings, Beau

      Sent from my iPad

    • Actually, the folks you named are not up for trial use, given that they have had final approval by General Convention. Greg Howe

      • In the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, “trial use” refers to revisions of the Book of Common Prayer. The Calendar with commemorations is part of the BCP (pp 19-30); names added prior to 2009 have been approved by two successive General Conventions, and so as Greg notes are not up for trial use.

        However, every “lesser feast” already in the Calendar and hence also in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006 has had a third lesson added, and in some cases one of the existing readings or psalm was changed and/or the collect was revised. The SCLM will review all comments on the propers in Holy Women, Holy Men, both for new and existing feasts, and determine whether to propose any revisions to the 2012 General Convention.

        No changes have been made to the propers for “Feasts of our Lord” and “Major Feasts” (a list of these is on BCP pp. 16-17) including Mary Magdalene. These propers are included in the BCP, and all of them already have 3 readings and a psalm. The SCLM made no changes to these propers and is not considering any revisions, which would be a revision of the BCP.

        Ruth Meyers
        SCLM chair

  11. Thanks. I found the calendar you referred to starting on p. 7 of HWHM. There are three categories, if I understand correctly: 1) Saints or other feast days which are in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) as you said above, which are not up for discussion for that reason and are capitalized; 2) names which have been in Lesser Feasts and Fasts since LFF began (in 1980?), may contain italicized changes, and are up for trial use along with the collects and scripture readings suggested, so will be blogged; and 3) names underlined, which are additions made since the last General Convention (2006), also up for trial use and to be blogged. Is that correct?

  12. I apologize for writing so much, but do see an error in my last post: the additions in (3) weren’t made since
    the last GC (2006), they were approved at GC 2006 for trial use. I hope I’ve finally gotten it right.

  13. Since the name is shown (reasonably enough) in it’s Christian form in the Calendar, I suggest that the biography should begin by using that name, but make reference to his Zulu name in parenthesis.

    • Thanks for this comment, Nigel. When I formatted this posting, I was thinking the same thing. It also might be helpful to actually point up the difference between the two names for those who are not aware.

      Blessings, Beau Surratt

  14. Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “in 1898” for “around the turn of the 20th century”.

    Line 1, fifth paragraph: substitute “on July 21,” for “in”.

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