I had not intended to watch the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, however, when it was announced that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, was to preach the sermon, I changed my mind. Having had a “selfie” taken with the Presiding Bishop at an event only a few days prior, how could I not watch the royal wedding, if for no other reason than to see how the English Church received Bishop Curry’s unique style of preaching. Steeped as we are in over one thousand years of tradition, we British do events such as royal weddings well; it is a part of our national DNA. So it came as no surprise that the service was indeed beautiful, but I do not think anyone could have anticipated the reaction to Michael Curry’s sermon. Since the royal wedding I have read and received numerous comments and observations, mostly positive, some negative, on the Presiding Bishop’s sermon, and a few people have asked for my thoughts. So for what it’s worth, I offer these few reflections.
Michael Sadgrove, a much respected English clergy friend, former Dean of Durham Cathedral, and no mean preacher in his own right summed up Bishop Curry well when he writes of his “personal, extraverted, apparently more spontaneous, style.” I have heard it remarked that Bishop Curry’s sermon was “thin,” and likely preached extempore. In my view, there was nothing “extemporaneous” about it. Any preacher who quotes Dr. Martin Luther King and the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, drops in a Negro Spiritual and quotes from the Gospel of Matthew, mentions the Prophet Micah, St. Paul’s hymn of love in 1 Corinthians, not forgetting the Torah all within the context of the Song of Songs has clearly thought about what he is to preach. This was a carefully crafted sermon on a difficult text delivered in an extraordinary setting in front of the kind of congregation few priests ever get to face. It was a wedding sermon per excellence, that spoke not just to the couple but to the whole congregation. The measure of it is that people all around the world took notice.
When I was taught homiletics in seminary, my professor spoke of good sermons having a trajectory, taking the hearer from some point to a place they had not thought of; he talked a lot about finding one’s “voice,” one’s “preaching style.” Above all, good sermons and good preachers, he opined, should possess authenticity. It literally takes years for good preachers to find their voice and to be comfortable with their style of preaching. Bishop Curry brought all of these things into the pulpit when he preached in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor – his African-American heritage, with its own unique preaching voice, and his years as an Episcopal priest, bishop and social activist.
The amazing thing about his sermon was that he preached on one word – love. Any priest who has performed weddings will tell you that, the word “love” is very much over-sentimentalized. In his sermon at the royal wedding, Michael Curry gave the word “love” weight, moving us from the warm, sentimental emotions of a wedding to the reality of love on a global scale. The following day was the Feast of Pentecost, and Bishop Curry’s sermon was a Pentecost sermon preached about the “fire” of God’s love in Jesus for us all. This fact seemed to escape most commentators’ notice. What amazed me was that it seemed to have escaped most commentator’s notice that the following day was the Feast of Pentecost, and more than anything, Bishop Curry’s sermon was a Pentecost sermon preached about the “fire” of God’s love in Jesus for us all.
One final observation. Some commentators have used Bishop Curry’s sermon to draw a comparison between preaching styles in the Episcopal Church and the Church of England. Having lived in the Episcopal Church for over thirty years, I suspect few priests preach as
well as Bishop Curry. In other words, neither the Church of England nor the Episcopal Church has the monopoly on fine preaching. That said, I was baptized and confirmed in the Church of England; to be honest, it is my spiritual home. But I was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, and when he preached at the royal wedding, Bishop Curry made me feel very proud to call myself Episcopalian.
The Rev. Canon Stephen C. Casey
St. Edward’s Episcopal Church Lancaster
29th May 2018