Episcopal bishop, in return to Baltimore, urges return to values of early Christianity

Speaking in his onetime hometown of Baltimore on Friday, the leader of the worldwide Episcopal Church urged his nearly 2 million-member denomination to return to the values of early Christianity.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, former rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, is the first African-American to serve as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He told more than 400 attendees at the annual convention of the Diocese of Maryland that it was time for Episcopalians to turn their focus away from worldly preoccupations to the sorts of radically humane ideas Jesus preached and lived.

Jesus, he said, inspired his first followers to "reorient their lives" around such proclamations as "blessed are the poor in spirit' and 'blessed are those who are persecuted just because they love somebody,'" he said.

He said if the clergy and lay delegates in the audience, and others like them, emulate what he called the Jesus Movement — the wave of change Jesus inspired before the religion known as Christianity took shape — they would secure the future of the Episcopal Church.

His remarks at Turf Valley Resort came at a time when the church he has led since 2015 — like all mainstream Protestant churches — has seen a rapid decline in attendance.

As of 2014, the Episcopal Church reported 1,956,042 baptized members, the vast majority of them in the United States. That represented a decrease of 1.4 percent over the previous two years.

Speaking in his trademark energetic style, Curry said his address was not a sermon, "but if it were, I might say something like 'the key to the fruit is always in the root,'" he said, and the audience applauded.

Every presiding bishop tries to visit each of the church's more than 100 dioceses during his or her nine-year term. Curry appeared at the 233rd annual convention of the Maryland diocese at the invitation of its leader, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton.

He was also to address an expected crowd of about 800 people Friday night in a revival-style meeting at Goucher College.

Curry said the church should take action against gun violence, a concern he said the Maryland diocese has a long history of addressing.

Clergy and elected lay delegates from each parish in the Maryland diocese gather at a convention each year to elect new officials and tend to other church business.

Church officials said Curry will touch on similar themes Monday when he co-hosts a nationwide webinar to launch "Becoming Beloved Community," a new multi-year initiative on racial healing, reconciliation and justice.

Church leaders spent a year crafting a report that details a four-step strategy by which members can apply the spirit of the Jesus Movement to the process of healing racial wounds.

In a separate interview, Curry, who lived in Baltimore from 1988 to 2000 and was later elected bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, said he hoped the Jesus Movement message would encourage Episcopalians to spend less time focusing on such concerns as the upkeep of buildings and more on the radical spirituality the buildings are meant to foster.

The earliest Christians, he pointed out, had no church buildings.

"The closer we get to the origins of Jesus of Nazareth — that church will have a future," he said.

jonpitts@baltsun.com

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