CLERGY APPRECIATION

Clergy Appreciation Week is an international project of Civitan International, which honors local leaders of all faiths for their dedicated service to their local communities. Since 1963, Civitan clubs around the world have set aside a week in February of each year to honor local faith leaders for their acts of service.

The project was inspired by the story of the Four Chaplains. On February 3, 1943, four military chaplains—a Methodist minister, a Catholic priest, a Reformed minister and a Jewish rabbi—sacrificed their lives in service to others on board the USS Dorchester. The troop transport ship, in route to Greenland, was hit by a torpedo. The four chaplains, George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, John P. Washington, and Clark V. Poling, removed their own life jackets to give to other passengers and locked arms in prayer for the safety of others as the ship submerged into the icy waters.

The story of the Four Chaplains has been commemorated in several books, films and in song.

The Civitan tradition began with the chartering of the Albuquerque Breakfast Civitan Club in 1960. The members of the club decided to honor local clergy as their first major project and Civitan International soon adopted Clergy Week as an official project. Beginning with a proclamation at the 1962 Civitan convention in Dallas, Texas, the week of February 3 was selected to coincide with the sinking of the Dorchester and the story of the four chaplains.

The creation of the annual Civitan project was first chronicled in the October 1965 edition of Civitan Magazine. The article pointed out that the week was selected to commemorate the sacrifice made by the four chaplains but Clergy Appreciation Week is not intended to be a memorial to the chaplains but a week of celebration and appreciation for the men and women who dedicate their lives to the service of others in their community as leaders in their respective ministries. Club meetings during clergy week were not intended to feature a sermon but to invite local clergy as honored guests.

Clergy Appreciation Week quickly gained attention across the nation. First Lady Betty Ford served as Honorary Chairperson for Civitan in 1974. President Ford issued a White House proclamation for the week in 1975. Among the clergy honored that year was Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and father of slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civitans around the world continue to honor leaders of all faith traditions each February in respect to the men and women who lead their communities with the hearts of servants.