The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry lit St. George’s Chapel on fire Saturday with a rousing homily delivered during the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Inside the 14th-century chapel, Curry quoted Martin Luther King Jr., he spoke of slavery and, above all, the transformative power of love.
“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love,” Curry preached, evoking King’s words.
Before Curry’s sermon stirred those at Windsor Castle and others worldwide, he was preaching at St. James Episcopal Church in Baltimore.
As a preacher, Curry always demonstrated a gift for speaking to a broad range of people, regardless of race or class or gender, said the Rev. Melvin Truiett, priest at St. James, where Curry presided from 1988 through 2000.
“He is a person that you can approach and he’ll make you feel at ease, regardless of whether you’re the president, the queen or a prince — anyone, he would treat you the same,” Truiett said previously.
Curry, now back at home in New York, recently shared some reflections on the historic union — which he says represents the creation of “a new world.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What are some of your reflections now in the immediate days following this event?
I really was honored and felt blessed to be able to participate. My prayer was that whatever message I brought would be a message that would be a blessing not only for the royal couple themselves and their immediate family but for everybody who was either present physically or present on television or the internet ... and I hope that that was the case. That’s been my prayer all along.
I got the impression watching your address that it was a similar homily that you might have given in Baltimore or anyplace else that you would preach.
In terms of style. The way I delivered it was the way I preach. It was obviously a wedding sermon. But some of the basics — the core message there of the power of love not simply as a sentimental thing but as a transformational way — that actually is the core of the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. I didn’t invent that.
The Diocese of Ohio summarizes the teachings of Jesus by saying: “Love God, love your neighbor, change the world.” And I think that’s spot on. This way of love is not a sentimental thing, this is a transformational way of life that can change lives, that can change the world. And it’s done it before and it can do it again.
I love that when you caution people, you say, “Don’t even oversentimentalize love.” That’s not your typical wedding message.
About how many weddings do you think you’ve presided over?
Oh my lord. I have been ordained since 1978. I don’t know, you have to do the math for me. It’s been a long time. I have no idea but I’ve done a lot of weddings.
It seems like your message touched so many people. A journalist named Diana Evans wrote for The Guardian: “It was a sermon that will go down in history as a moment when the enduring seat of colonialism was brought before the Lord, and questioned in its own house.” What do you make of that?
Wow. I really did want to bring the message of Jesus Christ, what I believe to be the essential core message of Jesus of Nazareth, at the word that can help us all regardless of who we are. It can help us all to find a better way. George Bernard Shaw said: “Some men see things and ask, ‘Why?’ I dreamed things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” We must be people who ask “Why not?”
The world does not have to be the way it often is. Things can change. They can be different. They can be better. Somebody asked me recently they said, “Well the love thing is nice, but is it realistic?”
When [guests on Dr. Phil’s TV show are] describing what their lives are like and all the mess they’re in, and Dr. Phil used to say, “Well, how’s that working out for you?” For anyone who asks, “Is the way of love realistic?”, I would ask, “Well, how is the way of being unloving and being selfish and being faithful and bigoted, how’s that working out for you? How’s that working out for the world?”
The truth is, this way of love is the only way to life itself. That life is dysfunctional when it is not loving. It’s really that simple. And the example of Jesus of Nazareth himself, it was the Roman Empire that executed him, and yet he outlived and his message outlived the Roman Empire. Mahatma Gandhi led people to freedom in India and did so following a way of love that became the means of nonviolent change. Archbishop Desmond Tutu. President [Nelson] Mandela. The late Steve Biko in South Africa. They followed the way of nonviolent love and led a nation to freedom. They did. A multiracial, multicultural, multireligious nation. I mean I could go on — and obviously Dr. King.
If you look at the people who have made a difference in this world — and actually the people who have made a difference in your life and in my life — they have consistently been people who have lived by a way of love and care and compassion and kindness and decency and justice. All of which are derivatives of the way of love. The people who have changed the world have always been people of love. Doesn’t mean they were perfect. They weren’t. None of us are. But the ones who have changed the world have done it by the way of love, so that anyone who would ask, “Is this realistic and pragmatic?” My answer is simply, “Look at the record.” I think it’s stood the test of time.
Is there something special about this particular wedding?
Yes. I think in a variety of ways. This wedding involved two people who were bringing a variety of worlds together in their union and relationship. Any married couple does that. They really do. Any married couple is bringing at least two different worlds together and creating a new world if you will. And this couple, they were bringing variety of worlds — two nations, nationalities, different national worlds, different ethnic worlds, worlds of different experiences. ... And when it really happens and works, it actually creates a new world. We call that a family. But they create something that didn’t exist before. And that’s what these two people did. But they did it on a bigger scale.
And they are two people — it was really obvious for anybody who could see — two people who are obviously deeply in love with each other, but they are also deeply in love with their brothers and sisters in the human family. And each of them have worked through different charities and causes that they support. They are passionate about helping to make this world a better place.
Following your sermon, the Kingdom Choir sang “Stand by Me.”
Weren’t they incredible?
They were so awesome. It just seemed like this is really a historic moment. Did you feel that way at all when you were there?
Yes. We all did. I tell you. I really do believe for me, but I think for those of us who were in the chapel and those of us who were watching, I think we just all went to church. I think we all went to church.