Atlanta’s bishop joins sanitation crew to mark Dr. King’s birthday

By Don Plummer
Posted Jan 16, 2014
On Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright works the morning trash pickup. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese of Atlanta

On Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright works the morning trash pickup. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese of Atlanta

[Diocese of Atlanta]  Atlanta’s Bishop Rob Wright took a page out of history Wednesday and spent Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday with city sanitation workers.

“Dr. King spent his last hours on earth advocating for garbage workers, and it only seems right that I mark his birthday by spending it with those in similar circumstances,” Bishop Wright said at the 7 a.m. roll call.

Bishop Rob Wright leads a prayer for sanitation workers before their shift begins. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese of Atlanta

Bishop Rob Wright leads a prayer for sanitation workers before their shift begins. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese of Atlanta

After speaking to and praying with workers, Wright joined a sanitation truck crew for several hours on busy downtown streets. He emptied garbage cans, rode  on the bumper of a truck as it went between stops, and learned how to work the truck’s compactor.

Wright is marking his tenure with events on the streets working with the poor and forgotten. Prior to his bishop ordination and consecration in October 2012 he washed and massaged people’s feet at the foot-health clinic operated by the diocese’s ministry to Atlanta’s homeless.

Wright’s commitment to engage with people about their everyday needs can be traced back to years he spent as a Howard University student working for the Children’s Defense Fund and the city of Washington, D.C.’s community centers.

“Church and religion aren’t just a Sunday thing; Jesus lived and worked every day among people whose lives were hard and who needed the presence of someone who cared about them,” Wright said at the workers’ pre-dawn gathering where three sanitation workers shared their life stories.

One of them, E. Nelson Williams, talked about an exhibit he developed and titled “Image Is” on the contributions of black Americans. Williams called on his colleagues to identify their own black heroes as a way of honoring Dr. King.

“The continued advancement of humanity is inevitably linked to our predecessors, who by example serve as inspirational reminders to persevere … for a brighter future,” Williams said.

Last fall Wright announced a plan increasing community-based ministries and refocusing the diocese’s permanent diaconate on the needs of the poor and other people living on the margins of society.

Bishop Rob Wright notes the irony of one discarded item. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese Atlanta

Bishop Rob Wright notes the irony of one discarded item. Photo: Don Plummer/Diocese Atlanta

“The work of a deacon on behalf of the church in the world is too important to conflate with other tasks,” he said. “There is a ‘harvest’ in the world, Jesus has said.  The permanent diaconate, for our church, is the eyewitness and herald of this harvest.”

Currently the diocese, which consists of 109 worshiping communities in middle and north Georgia, supports ministries providing health care, food, workplace training and assistance to those dealing with abuse and mental illness.

— Don Plummer is communications consultant for the Diocese of Atlanta and is a member of St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church, Acworth, Georgia.

Comments (20)

  1. Thank you so much Bishop Rob for your public witness! Mahalo Nui Loa!

    1. Watch “Atlanta Now” on the City of Atlanta Channel 26 (Comcast) to see Bishop Wright “walk in the shoes” of workers of the Department of Public Work! Log on to : and click on Channel 26 .

  2. The Rev. Gary England, Deacon, Diocese of East Tennessee says:

    Bishop Rob,
    May God richly bless you in your ministry as you are a blessing to the Church.

  3. martha knight says:

    Thank you Bishop Wright. This is the essence of ministry.

  4. Anna Grimes says:

    Thank you, Bishop Wright! Thinking of you and your flock from folks just a diocese or two away from you in Middle Tennessee. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

  5. George Kooney says:

    Bishop Rob: Your example should spur all us disciples to do the Lord’s work wherever it is needed.
    Your friend George from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC.

  6. Francisco Vasquez says:

    Revdmo. Rob Wright: El ejemplo de Su Excelencia me ha conmovido grandemente. Me doy cuenta que yo he hecho poco por mis semejantes, pero que puedo hacer mas siguiendo el ejemplo suyo para conmemorar como se debe la gesta de nuestro Martin Luther King Jr.
    Gracias Señor Obispo, por predicarme con el ejemplo.

  7. David Wayland says:

    You make me proud to be a Christian, an Episcopalian, a priest, and a former member of your Diocese. You model the kind of Christian action we see in Pope Francis. Yes, once a Deacon, always a Deacon, as we once taught. The church moves forward on service to others. .

  8. The Rev. Fabio Sotelo says:

    Bishop Wright, thank you for your leadership. No words to add. Blessings

  9. When our bishops continue to lead us in following the Jesus of history then maybe more of our people will know what it means to be a “Follower of The Way” and serve as the one who came “not to be served but to serve”.
    WIth gratitude,

  10. Delois Ward says:

    God bless you as you continue to lead by example

  11. John Newman says:

    Amen and Amen, Bishop Wright !

  12. Bishop Rob,
    A powerful witness about Dr Kings commitment for justice for those whom many saw/see as the least. Thank you acting in genuine servant language, exchanging liturgical vestment for workman’s vest. In this you are a priest revealing Christ on an altar and elements deemed common and lowly.


  13. Br. Aelred Bernard Dean, BSG says:

    This is faith in action where the church meets people right where they are at!

  14. Barbara H. Whitton says:

    Wow — very inspiring. Thanks for your example.

  15. Danny Anderson says:

    Your Grace never stops to inspire. May my Diocese of East Carolina be so blest this year when God sends us a new bishop.

  16. JAMES K. MURIUKI says:

    Bishop Wright,
    It is so touching to see you expressing Christlike example. Putting yourself in a real life situation where you identify yourself with the humanity we always do not see or look down on them without saying a word. Bishop, we all want to identify with your ministry. Thank you so much for the challenge you are heaping on our shoulders.

  17. Joan Cranford says:

    Bishop Wright,
    This is an awesome testimony of love for humanity and a demonstration of the love Christ showed to all. Thank you for allowing God to use you in such a special way. It is people like you who bring others to Christ.
    Joan Cranford

  18. Melida Fitten (Mellie) says:

    Thank you Bishop Wright for making your self present amongst the needy, for taking time out. God spends lots of time with all of us. This is what he wants us to do. God Bless you.

  19. Marie-Louise Muhumuza says:

    Actions speak louder than words.
    They will know us by our deeds. Thank you Bishop Wright!

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