Bishop Michael Currys sermon was one of many departures from royal tradition
The announcement that the Chicago-born presiding bishop of the US Episcopal church, Michael Curry, a campaigner for LGBT rights and racial justice, would deliver the sermon at Saturdays ceremony was a surprise, given that he had no previous relationship with the couple, but he was asked to contribute to the service on the recommendation of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Effusive and impassioned, injecting black American heritage into the event, he didnt disappoint.
Top and tailing his ceremony-stealing sermon with words from Dr Martin Luther King, Curry, the first African American to lead the Episcopal church, preached on the transformative, healing power of love through the spirit of old slaves in Americas antebellum south. In freeform, rousing sing-song speech, he entwined the legacy of slavery with African American church traditions and delivered his message into the heart of the British establishment. Members of the royal family were visibly stunned and bemused.
Curry, born in Chicago in 1953, followed in his fathers footsteps and was ordained as a priest in 1978, after graduating as a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School. He has been vocal throughout his ministry on issues of social justice and marriage equality. His decision to refer to Balm in Gilead, an old Negro spiritual sung by slaves to invoke the concept of salvation through Jesus was audacious and deliberate. If you cannot preach like Peter, there is a balm in Gilead. And if you cannot pray like Paul, to make the wounded whole, you can tell the love of Jesus. There is a balm in Gilead, how he died to save us all, to heal the sin-sick soul.
Curry offered evangelical hope to the great and good gathered in Windsor and black spiritual tradition was liberally quoted throughout. Rather than focus on the couple and their nuptials, Curry called for attention to war, poverty, hunger. Imagine neighbourhoods and communities when love is the way, he rallied.
Imagine governments and nations when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. In wry self-deprecation, he made the congregation giggle by assuring them he was almost done. With this I will sit down, he joked, we gotta get yall married. He then went on to recall French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of the great minds and spirits of the 20th century, in a fiery conclusion urging that if human beings ever harness the energies of love, then for the second time in history, we will have discovered fire.
Welby urged his followers on Twitter to watch the 13 minute sermon in full, describing it as extraordinary and powerful.
Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, and Meghan Markle, also broke from tradition with their choice of music. Whereas hymns and classical music are the customary fare at royal weddings, the couple asked Karen Gibson to conduct the black gospel Kingdom Choir in a rendition of Ben E Kings Stand By Me. To close the ceremony, the choir undercut the pomp of the service with Etta Jamess civil rights anthem This Little Light of Mine.
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