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Acceptance Address at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: May 2, 1954 ?

Location: Montgomery, Ala.

Genre: Speech

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


Following King's second visit to Dexter, he wrote a letter conditionally accepting the congregation’s call to be its next pastor.1 After a church meeting on 18 April, clerk Robert D. Nesbitt wrote to King agreeing to his conditions and asking that he conduct the church’s 2 May morning communion service.2 In these notes for his remarks following the service, King expresses appreciation for the call to Dexter and notes that he arrives “at a most crucial hour of our world’s history.” He humbly asserts, “I have no pretense to being a great preacher or even a profound scholar,” but adds, “I come with a feeling that I have been called to preach and to lead God’s people.”

You the people of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church have called me to serve as your pastor of your historic Church; and I have gladly accepted the call. It is with more than perfuctory gratitude that I again express my appreciation to you for bestowing upon [me?] this great honor. I accept the pastorate dreadfully aware of the tremendous responsibilities accompaning it. [strikeout illegible]to Contrary to some shallow thinking, the responsibilities of the pastorate both stagger and astound the imagination. They tax the whole man.

I come to you with no pretense to infallibility

It is a significant fact that I come to you [the pastorate] at a most crucial h to the pastorate of Dexter at a most crucial hour of our world’s history; At a time when the flame of war might arise at any time to reden the skies of our dark and dreary world; at a time when men know all to well that without the proper guidance the whole of civilization can be plunged across the abyss of destruction; at a time when men are experiencing in all realms of life disruption and conflict, self-destruction and meaningless, despair and anxiety. Today men who were but yesterday ridiculing the Church of Christ are now asking the Church the way to the paradise of peace and hapiness. We must somehow give our generation an answer. Dexter, like all other churches, must somehow lead men and women of a decadent generation to the high mountain of peace and happiness salvation. We must give men and women, who are all but on the brink of despair, a new bent on life. I pray God that I will be able to lead Dexter in this urgent mission.

I come to you with nothing so special to offer. I have no pretense to being a great preacher or even a profound scholar. I certainly have no pretence to infallibility—that is reserved for the height of the divine rather than the depth of the human. At every moment I am conscious of my finiteness, knowing so clearly that I have never been bathed in the sunshine of omnicience or baptized in the waters of omnipotence. I come to you with only the claim of being a servant of Christ, and a feeling of dependence on his grace for my leadership. I come with a feeling that I have been called to preach and to lead God’s people. I have felt like Jeremiah that the word of God is in heart like burning fire shut up in my bones.3 I have felt with Amos that when God speaks who can but prophesy.4 I have felt with Jesus that the spirit of Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty them that are bruised.5

1. King to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 14 April 1954, in Papers 2:260.

2. Nesbitt to King, 19 April 1954, in Papers 2:262-263. King noted on his 26 July 1953 manuscript of “Accepting Responsibility for Your Actions” that he had also preached this sermon on 2 May 1954 at Dexter (p. 139 in this volume).

3. Cf. Jeremiah 20:9.

4. Cf. Amos 3:8.

5. Cf. Luke 4:18.

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 118, ''Sermon Material."

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