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Lessons and Carols

lessonscarols

 

 Anthem – O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Lesson One

 

 

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel
That into exile drear is gone,
Far from the face of God’s dear Son.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

O come, thou Branch of Jesse! draw1
The quarry from the lion’s claw;
From the dread caverns of the grave,
From nether hell, thy people save.

3. O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
Pour on our souls thy healing light;
Dispel the long night’s lingering gloom,
And pierce the shadows of the tomb.

4. O Come, thou Lord of David’s Key!2
The royal door fling wide and free;3
Safeguard for us the heavenward road,
And bar the way to death’s abode.

5. O come, O come, Adonai,
Who in thy glorious majesty
From that high mountain clothed in awe,4
Gavest thy folk the elder Law.

Isaiah 9:2-6a

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you

For the yoke of their burden,and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian. For a child has been born for us, a child given to us;

 

Those Who Saw the Star by Julia Esquivel

The Word became Light,

The Word became History.

The Word became Conflict,

The Word became Indomitable Spirit,

and sowed its seeds …

and those-of-good-will, heard the angels sing.

Tired knees were strengthened, trembling hands were stilled, and the people who wandered in darkness saw the light!

Then,

The Word became flesh in a nation-pregnant-with-freedom,

The Spirit strengthened the arms which forged Hope,

The Verb became flesh in the people who perceived a new day…

 

The Word became the seed-of-justice and we conceived peace.

The Word made justice to rain and peace came forth from the furrows in the land.

Grace and Truth celebrated together in the laughter of the children rescued by life.

And the Word shall continue sowing futures in the furrows of Hope.

And on the horizon the Word made light invited us to relive a thousand dawns

toward the Kin-dom that comes…

Gabriel’s Message –  Lesson Two

 

Most Highly Favored Lady 

Gloria. Gloria.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;

“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,

Most highly favored lady.” Gloria.

“For know a blessed mother thou shalt be.”

“All generations laud and honor thee.”

“Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,

Most highly favored lady.” Gloria.  Gloria.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,

“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said.

“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name.”

Most highly favored lady. Gloria.

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born

In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,

And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say,

“Most highly favored lady. Gloria!”

Gloria. Gloria.

 

Luke 1:26-31

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The woman’s name was Mary. And Gabriel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! Our God is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by these words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a child, whom you will name Jesus.

 

People of Ceaseless Hope by Walter Burghardt

[We] must be [people] of ceaseless hope…Every human act, every Christian act, is an act of hope. But that means [we] must be [people] of the present, [we] must live this moment – really live it, not just endure it – because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, because of its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities, is pregnant with the future, is pregnant with love.

A Child is Born – Lesson Three

 

What Child Is This – arr. Parker/Shaw

What Child is this who, laid to rest

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;

Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,

Come peasant, king to own Him;

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,

The virgin sings her lullaby.

Joy, joy for Christ is born,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 

Matthew 1:18-21

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When Jesus’ mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a child, whom you are to name Jesus, for your child will save God’s people.

 

First Coming  by Madeleine L’Engle

God did not wait till the world was ready, till…the nations were at peace.

God came when the heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release.

God did not wait for the perfect time. God came when the need was deep and great.

God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine. God did not wait

Till hearts were pure. In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours of anguished shame God came, and god’s light would not go out.

God came to a world which did not mesh, to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of Word made Flesh the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait til the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain, God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Born in a Manger – Lesson Four

 

The Wexford Carol – arr. Rutter

Good people all, this Christmas-time,

Consider well and bear in mind

What our good God for us has done

In sending his beloved Son.

With Mary holy we should pray

To God with love this Christmas day;

In Bethlehem upon that morn

There was a blessed Messiah born.

 

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep

Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;

To whom God’s angels did appear,

Which put the shepherds in great fear.

‘Prepare and go,’ the angels said.

‘To Bethlehem, be not afraid:

For there you’ll find, this happy morn,

A princely babe, sweet Jesus born.

 

With thankful heart and joyful mind,

The shepherds went the babe to find.

And as God’s angel had foretold,

They did our saviour Christ behold.

Within a manger he was laid,

And by his side the virgin maid,

Attending on the Lord of life,

Who came on earth to end all strife.

 

Luke 2:1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn child, wrapped the child in bands of cloth, and laid the child in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

In the Middle of the Night by Dom Helder Camara

Then you chose to come.

God’s resplendent first-born sent to make us one.

The voices of doom protest:

“All these words about justice, love and peace—

All these naïve words will buckle beneath the weight

of a reality which is brutal and bitter, ever more bitter.”

It is true, Lord, it is midnight upon the earth,

moonless night and starved of stars.

But can we forget that You, the son of God, chose to be born

precisely at midnight?

The Messiah as Foretold – Lesson Five

 

Lo, How a Rose 

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!

Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as seers of old have sung.

It came, a blossom bright, amid the cold of winter,

When half spent was the night.

 

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;

With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.

To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior,

When half spent was the night.

 

O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,

Dispel with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;

True Man, yet very God, from sin and death now save us,

And lighten every load.

 

Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of God stood before them, and the glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”

 

Aztec Story of the Nativity

The angels came down from the sky like birds. Their voices were bells. They sounded like flutes.

“Praise God in heaven Alleluia!” They came flying out of the sky, singing, “Peace on earth, alleluia!”

Sweet smelling song flowers were scattering everywhere, falling to earth in a golden rain.

“Let’s scatter these golden flowers, alleluia!” The flowers are heavy like dew, and the dew is filled with light, shining like jewels in Bethlehem. “Alleluia!”

Heart flowers , plumlike bell flowers, red cup flowers.

They’re beaming with dawn light, they’re shining like gold. “Alleluia!”

Emeralds, pearls, and red crystals are glowing. They’re glistening. It’s dawn.

“Alleluia!” Jewels are spilling in Bethlehem, falling to earth, “Alleluia!”

The Star Reveals the Mystery – Lesson Six

 

                             

Anthem – O Magnum Mysterium – Lauridsen

O magnum mysterium

O great mystery

et admirabile sacramentum

and wondrous sacrament

ut animalia viderent Dominum

that animals should see the Lord

natum, jacentem in praesepio.

born, lying in a manger.

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb

meruerunt portare

was worthy to bear the

Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

 

Matthew 2: 1-2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw this One’s star in the east and have come to worship this child.”

 

In Choosing to Be Born  by Peter Chrysologus, 5th Century

In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. God therefore reveals God’s own self in this way, in order that this great sacrament of love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding. Today the Magi find, crying in a manger, the one they have followed, shining in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited, laying hidden among the stars. Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, humanity in God, God in humanity, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.

…. They did not recognize him…
Layer by layer, strip me bare to the core of my existence for there You dwell.
Beneath my hopes, my fears, my joys, my sadness You are there.
Just let go, let go for You are there.
Within the blessed light of emptiness You are there.
And let me in this blissful state of communion dwell, until I can emerge more You than me.
For it will be then that I can recognize Your loving presence in this world.

Becky Lisy

The Shepherds and Wise Men Came- Lesson Seven

 

 

The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
O’er Bethlehem it took it rest,
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind hath bought

Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of God stood before them, and the glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”

Wide, Wide, in the Rose’s Side – Martinson

Wide, wide in the rose’s side

Sleeps a child without sin.

And any man who loves in this world

Stands here on guard over him.

He Brings Hope for the Poor and Suffering – Lesson Eight

 

In the Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter – Gustav Holst.
words by Christina Rossetti, 1872

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart

Isaiah 9:6   For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Prayer in dark September – Kathleen McCoy

for the little ones with furrowed brows
for those slowed by stiffness and disbelief
for those who ran out of time or just in time
for those ground down to powder
for those whose feet have gone groundless
for those who loathe all who are unlike themselves
for those whose losses howl in the heart
for those who time how long it takes to heal
for those who time the kill
for those who want revenge on strangers
for those who charge into flames for strangers
for those who’ve scraped the dark’s knife-edge
for those who lead and light the way
for those who pray in black and white
for those whose prayer is dim or blocked

let the muscles of their brows unknit
let disbelief be illumined by possibility
let the ashes mix with water
let them cleanse the crying ground
let groundlessness become a memory
let loathing’s crouching corners fill with light
let the jagged wounds of loss be healed
let flames of hatred sputter and utterly die
let love quench the endless thirst for blood

that the terrible rendings may cease
that no one ever again would be to us a stranger
that our voices would swell to gorgeous song
that our bodies would fill with light
that our lives might be a prayer

 

He brings Love and Peace – Lesson Nine

 

 

Once in royal David’s city, Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a Mother laid her baby In a manger for his bed;
Mary was that Mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable, And his cradle was a stall;
With the poor and mean and lowly Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

And through all his wondrous childhood He would honour and obey,

Love and watch the lowly maiden In whose gentle arms he lay;                        Christian children all must be Mild, obedient, good as he

For he is our childhood’s pattern: Day by day like us he grew;
He was little, weak and helpless, Tears and smiles like us he knew;
And he feeleth for our sadness, And he shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see him Through his own redeeming love,
For that Child, so dear and gentle, Is our Lord in heaven above;
And he leads his children on To the place where he is gone.

Not in that poor, lowly stable With the oxen standing by
We shall see him, but in heaven, Set at God’s right hand on high, When, like stars, his children, crowned, All in white shall wait around.

John 3:16   For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts  be troubled and do not be afraid.

 

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Benediction – Ave Maria

 

 

 

Postlude Selection

 

 

 

 

OCTARIUM

2015_nov_1_curry_114

Episcopal Church installs its first African American presiding bishop

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In an impassioned speech, Michael Bruce Curry, the 27th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and Primate, speaks before a packed house at Washington National Cathedral on Nov. 1. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

By Michelle Boorstein November 1 at 10:22 PM

The public face and style of the Episcopal Church shifted Sunday with the installation of Michael Bruce Curry, the denomination’s first African American spiritual leader.

Curry, 62, a high-energy, evangelical pastor, is expected to bring a positive, Pope Francis-like vibe to a church community marked in recent years by shrinking numbers and legal disputes related to gay rights.

“Don’t worry! Be happy! God loves you!” Curry boomed at the close of his sermon to the 2,500 people gathered in the soaring Washington National Cathedral. Preaching from the elevated Canterbury Pulpit, Curry immediately changed the face of Episcopalianism, historically one of the faiths of the nation’s white elite.

Curry, known for focusing on evangelism and programs for the poor, follows Katharine Jefferts Schori, a somber Nevada oceanographer who was presiding bishop for nine years.

Jefferts Schori oversaw a tumultuous period as Americans turned away from the denomination and conservatives streamed out, in some cases triggering litigation over church properties that bled into many millions of dollars. The church has faced the same tensions that other faiths have had for decades over issues such as gay rights and the female clergy, but it ordained Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop, in 2003. Since then, the church has lost 20 percent of its membership.

Curry focused his installation sermon on racial reconciliation, a cause at the center of what he calls “the Jesus movement” — a new emphasis on evangelism. Preaching in an animated style more familiar to a Baptist church, he told the story of a young black couple who visited an all-white Episcopal church in the 1940s. The woman, an Episcopalian, approached to take Communion. The man, who was studying to be a Baptist pastor, sat in the back, watching to see what would happen when it became clear in this segregated era that there was just one cup from which everyone would drink.

When the white priest offered the cup to the young black woman, the scene was so dramatic that the man shifted his affiliation and was ordained as an Episcopalian.

“The Holy Spirit has done evangelism and racial reconciliation in the Episcopal Church before, because that man and woman were the parents of the 27th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Curry said, speaking of himself.

The church broke into roars and applause.

“Yes, the way of God’s love turns our world upside down. But that’s really right-side up,” Curry preached. “And in that way, the nightmare of this world will be transfigured into the very dream of God for humanity and all creation. My brothers and sisters, God has not given up on God’s world. And God is not finished with the Episcopal Church yet.”

[More on Bishop Curry’s life story]

Racial reconciliation has become a higher priority for many predominantly white U.S. churches. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, along with the Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, in recent years have elevated it in sermons, programs on gun control and symbolic actions such as removing the Confederate flag from stained glass in the cathedral. The question for Curry and other faith leaders is how to avoid the political polarization Americans both love and hate and with which many young people associate organized Christianity.

While Curry focused on overcoming economic, racial, educational and political divisions, he is known as a progressive who was one of the first bishops to allow same-sex marriages to be performed, in North Carolina. He was involved in grass-roots demonstrations in Raleigh called Moral Monday, challenging local and state governments to address the poor and marginalized.

“Is it an understatement to say we live in a deeply complex and difficult time for our world,” Curry said. “Life is not easy. It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith.

“Churches, religious communities and institutions are being profoundly challenged,” he said. “But the realistic social critique of Charles Dickens rings true for us even now: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ . . . Don’t worry! Be happy!”
The installation drew a large crowd for the cathedral, including 150 bishops who streamed in together in white-and-red clerical garb. There were at least 75 “watch parties” of Episcopalians across the country, church spokeswoman Neva Rae Fox said.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S.-based part of the global Anglican Communion, one of the largest Christian communities in the world. Its membership, about 1.8 million, was never large, but until recently was home to a disproportionate number of the United States’ business and political elite. Culturally it was considered a proper part of U.S. society, with a refined and orderly worship style. Although that is a somewhat outdated image, Curry’s installation drove home the change as clergy processed to powerful Native American drumming music and an intense rendition of the black spiritual “Wade in the Water.”

“I wish everyone who thinks Episcopalians are the Frozen Chosen could experience this service,” tweeted one attendee.

The Episcopal Church’s first black leader — and its ‘tortuous’ path toward integration

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The Rev. Michael Curry, the incoming presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, visits Alexandria’s Virginia Theological Seminary for Tuesday’s consecration of the newly built Immanuel Chapel. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey October 15

Bishop Michael Curry vividly remembers growing up in segregated Buffalo in the 1950s and ’60s, where on one bright morning in 1963, he crossed Main Street from East Buffalo to West Buffalo to attend an integrated school.

As an Episcopal priest and civil rights activist, his late father, Kenneth Curry, helped lead the boycott of the city’s segregated public schools. And yet, like the larger culture at the time, worship in the Episcopal Church he so loved was largely segregated. As leader of a black congregation in Buffalo, he never would have been called to the pulpit of a white Episcopal church.

Five decades later, Kenneth Curry probably would never have imagined that his son would be chosen to lead the entire denomination.

On Nov. 1, Michael Curry — who was elected this summer just one week after the shootings at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C. — will be installed as the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church at Washington National Cathedral. He will replace Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected the church’s first female presiding bishop in 2006.

In many ways, Curry’s tenure will be a continuation of what his father taught him: In God’s eyes, all human beings are equal and deserve to be treated as such.

John Agbaje, right, takes a selfie with the Rev. Michael Curry after the Virginia Theological Seminary consecrated its newly built Immanuel Chapel on Tuesday in Alexandria. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
“I grew up seeing that Jesus of Nazareth has something to do with our lives and has something to do with how we structure and order our society,” said Curry, 62.

Curry, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina since 2000, was elected with an overwhelming majority, the third black candidate for presiding bishop in the church’s history.

“Most black Episcopalians interpret this as catching up, as something they should’ve done before,” said Byron Rushing, vice president of the House of Deputies and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Blacks make up 6.3 percent of the church’s membership, compared with 86.6 percent for non-Hispanic white members, according to church data.

But as presiding bishop, Curry will face membership challenges that extend far beyond race. Like other mainline denominations, the Episcopal Church — the historic home to U.S. presidents and the nation’s elite — has struggled to fill its pews. It has lost more than 20 percent of its members since it consecrated its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, and new statistics suggest that membership continues to fall, dropping 2.7 percent from 2013 to about 1.8 million U.S. members in 2014.
Progressive on social issues

On Tuesday, Curry and other church leaders gathered at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria to consecrate a chapel to replace the one that burned down in 2010. Curry was like a rock star to many of the seminarians, making faces for selfies.

Ian Markham, dean of the seminary, noted that the founders and faculty from the institution once owned slaves and that its new chapel has a plaque noting its past segregation in worship. “We have to recognize the sins of our past and repent of them,” he said.

Curry has a clear passion for evangelism, something he calls “the Jesus movement,” though not a formal movement within the church. He is also progressive on social issues and was one of the first bishops to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in North Carolina churches.

As bishop in North Carolina, Curry was involved in the grass-roots Moral Monday demonstrations in Raleigh, challenging local and state governments to address the poor and marginalized.

“The work of evangelism and social justice must go together, because it’s part of the whole gospel,” he said.

Observers note Curry’s desire to keep his installation service simple and his focus on people on the margins — almost like a Protestant Pope Francis who could help change the face of the church. His friends point to his boisterous preaching style as he moves around the pulpit and gestures with his arms, more Baptist than Episcopal in some ways.

The father of two adult daughters with his wife, Sharon, Curry is known for his infectious laughter and self-deprecating humor. He is an avid reader, a Buffalo Bills fan and a self-described “certified NFL grief counselor,” and a lover of music who took up the violin about seven years ago.

Curry said he was deeply shaped by his Baptist grandmother, the daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of slaves. While he was in middle school, she stepped in after Curry’s mother went into a coma brought on by a cerebral hemorrhage.

“My grandmother couldn’t imagine Barack Obama in the White House, and I know she couldn’t imagine her grandson as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church,” he said.
As a family, they would pray every night, and Curry jokingly said he would secretly hope that his father would pray so it would be a shorter one. “If it was the Baptist prayer, it would go on forever,” he said.

His mother, who grew up Baptist, switched to the Episcopal Church after she read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. His father, who was a licensed Baptist pastor and came from a line of Baptist preachers, followed her.

Curry remembers the denominational bantering between his father and grandmother.

“They would tease each other. She would say, ‘How do you know if someone in your church has the Holy Spirit?’ He’d say, ‘You all got too much Holy Spirit in your church.’ ”

Ending the battles

Curry’s down-to-earth style and gift for bringing people together should prove valuable as he leads a church riven by divisions in recent years over issues from gay rights to how to read Scripture. However, many of its more theologically conservative churches have left the denomination after having been involved in multimillion-dollar lawsuits over the right to church properties.

Part of Curry’s challenge will be to put those battles over social issues fully in the past, said Ryan Danker, a church historian at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

“If he can bring some peace and healing, maybe end the lawsuits, have discussion and dialogue with various parties, I think he’ll be very successful,” Danker said.

Jefferts Schori, the outgoing presiding bishop, said Tuesday that the Episcopal Church is no longer “the establishment church” in the United States, which she considers to be a good thing.

“We’re more focused on the people of the margins,” she said. “We’re willing to go be with, rather than do for, and I think that’s healthier spiritually.”

The Rev. Sandye Wilson, rector of St. Andrew and Holy Communion Episcopal Church in South Orange, N.J., and a friend of Curry’s, said he is uniquely able to address the range of Episcopal Church members.

“He is comfortable with kings and princes but doesn’t lose the common touch,” Wilson said. “He is as comfortable with people who are very wealthy and comfortable with people in prison.”
The Episcopal Church is affiliated with the larger worldwide Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian denomination, which is discussing whether it can remain unified amid divisions over sexuality and other issues. A large percentage of Anglicanism is thriving in the developing world, where more-conservative leaders have been unhappy with the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who attended Tuesday’s chapel consecration in Alexandria but declined interviews, has called Anglican leaders to a special meeting in January.

The Episcopal Church voted this summer to let gay couples marry in the church’s religious ceremonies, which Welby said “will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith resolutions.”

January’s gathering of leaders includes a review of the worldwide Anglican Communion’s future.

Some believe that Curry’s election as presiding bishop could help lead the way into that future, in which the membership of the global church will probably keep growing more diverse.

“It could change the face of the Episcopal Church, which is — at least in the eyes of many — a largely white, upper-class denomination of people in power,” said the Rev. Adam Shoemaker of Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington, N.C. “It will be significant now that we have a nonwhite presiding bishop to represent us to the rest of the church.”

The 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry at his Washington National Cathedral Installation, Sunday, November 1, 2015.

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All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015
A Sermon Preached by the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry
The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate
The Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, Washington, D.C.

In the Name of our loving, liberating and life giving God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It really is a joy and blessing to be able to be here and for the church to gather and to ask for God’s blessing.

Allow me a point of personal privilege. I am looking forward to working with my sister the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. We’ve been working with each other a bit over the summer.  And I look forward to working together with her in the years to come.

I want to offer thanks on your behalf for Dick Schori, the spouse of the Presiding Bishop.

In a time when there is often debate and genuine consternation as to whether courageous, effective leadership is even possible anymore, let the record show that The Episcopal Church has had a leader in Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It is an understatement to say we live in a deeply complex and difficult time for our world. Life is not easy.

It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith. Churches, religious communities and institutions are being profoundly challenged. You don’t need me to tell you that.

But the realistic social critique of Charles Dickens rings true for us even now. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But that’s alright. We follow Jesus. Remember what he said at the Last Supper, just hours before he would be arrested and executed? “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV)

As that great biblical scholar has said, borrowing from what might be Bobby McFerrin’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words: Don’t worry. Be happy!

Don’t Worry.  Be Happy.

Let me offer a text from the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. 

When [the angry crowd could not find the Apostle Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

What you have there is a First century description of the Jesus movement.  Don’t worry. Be happy!

Many centuries later, Julia Ward Howe, writing in the midst of America’s Civil War, spoke of this same movement, even amidst all the ambiguities and tragedies of history. This is what she wrote:

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom
that transfigures you and me,
as he died to make folk holy
let us live to set all free,
while God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.

That’s the Jesus movement. What was true in the First Century and true in the 19th Century is equally and more profound in this new 21st Century.

So don’t worry.  Be happy.

God has not given up on the world,

and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.

 I

The truly liberating truth is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to found a religion, though religious faith is important.  Nor did he establish a religious institution or organization, though institutions and organizations can serve his cause. You will not find an organizational table in the New Testament.

Jesus came to continue a movement. Actually, Jesus picked up and took the movement of John the Baptist to a new level. John was part of the movement born out of prophets like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And prophetic movement was rooted in Moses, who went up to the mountaintop. Jesus crystalized and catalyzed the movement that was serving God’s mission in this world.  God has a passionate dream for this world. 

Jesus came to show us the way.  Out of the darkness into the dream.

That’s what is going on in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles — the movement! The Apostle Paul and Silas, his partner in ministry, have been preaching, teaching and witnessing to the way of Jesus in the city of Thessalonica. While their message finds some resonance with many, it is troublesome to others. A riot breaks out because of the tensions. Our text describes those who are troubled by the teaching about The Way, as the Jesus movement was first called.

Listen to this description of the first followers of Jesus:

These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.  (Acts 17:6b-7)

Notice that the activity of Paul and Silas was seen not as an isolated incident in Thessalonica, but as part of a greater movement of revolution. “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” Paul and Silas by themselves might not have been of much consequence. But as part of a movement, they posed a problem.

This movement was perceived as somehow reordering the way things were, “turning the world upside down.”

The reason the movement was turning the world upside down was because members of the movement gave their loyalty to someone named Jesus and committed themselves to living and witnessing to his way above all else. “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” That’s what we did at the beginning of this service when, in the Baptismal Covenant, we reaffirmed our commitment to be disciples, living by and witnessing to the way of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

The Way of Jesus will always turn our worlds and the world upside down, which is really turning it right side up!

That’s what Isaiah was trying to tell us in Isaiah 11. He saw the dream. When God’s way is our way:

The prophet Isaiah saw this. When Gods dream happens, when the world is upside down…..

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them….
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)

St. John saw in his vision of the world end in the Book of Revelation. Exiled and imprisoned for his witness to the way of Jesus, John was caught up “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation1:10). He lifted up his head, and he saw the dream.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.   And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.(Revelation 21:1-4)

No more war.
No more suffering.
No more injustice.
No more bigotry.
No more violence.
No more hatred.
Every man and woman under their own vine or fig tree.
The rule of love. The way of God. The kingdom. The reign.
The great Shalom, Salaam of God.
The dream.

God’s on a mission to work through “our struggle and confusion,” as the Prayer Book says, to realize God’s dream. [i]

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy!

II

Now I know we all thought we were coming here today, via the live-stream of the internet or here in the cathedral, for the Installation of our Presiding Bishop. I thought that too until I was on the plane earlier this week, flying from North Carolina to the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

And I kid you not, a thought popped into my head: “You know this is not about you.” It sort of jolted me inside.  A lot was going on.  I was on the way to fill out employment and insurance papers. The movers were coming to Diocesan House in Raleigh. I was going to spend one last day with Bishop Katharine.

The real Michael Curry was frankly scared to death and wondering, “Did you all make a mistake?” I was stuck on a plane, strapped into my seat belt because of turbulence on the flight, and I couldn’t get off. At that moment, and I’m not trying to get mystical or anything, but at that moment something said to me, “Michael Curry, this is not about you.”

I must admit that was a moment of some sweet liberation. Because it’s not about me. It’s about God, and it’s about Jesus. It’s about that sweet, sweet Spirit who will show us the way “into all the truth,” as Jesus promised (John 16:13), who has shown us the way to be who we really were created to be.

The way of Jesus will always turn our lives and the world upside down, but we know that that’s really right side up. Therein is the deepest and fondest hope for all creation and the human family.

Just listen to what Jesus said. What the world calls wretched, Jesus calls blessed, turning the world upside down.

Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God’s righteous justice might prevail in all the world.
(Matthew 5:3-9, paraphrased)

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

At home and in the church, do unto others as you would have them do to you. That will turn things upside down. In the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the classrooms of the academic world, in the factories, on the streets, in the halls of legislatures and councils of government, in the courts of the land, in the councils of the nations, wherever human beings are, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That’s a game changer! “Things which were cast down are being raised up. And things which had grown old are being made new.” That will turn things upside down, which is really right side up! That’s what Jesus said and what the Jesus movement is about!

Love is the key

But the key to this turning, which is at the center of the way of Jesus, is love. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, where our Gospel reading came from, Jesus said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)

The liberating love of God is the key to the way of Jesus. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels tell about the lawyer or scribe who came up to Jesus one day. Great teacher, he asked, in all of the massive legal edifice of Moses, what is the greatest law? What is the cardinal principle on which it all stands? What is the goal? What is the point of it all? In other words, what is God really getting at?

Jesus answered, bringing together a teaching of Moses from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and a text from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus said to him,

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”(Matthew  22:37-40)

This is really a stunning declaration. On these two — love of God and love of your neighbor— hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.

Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
True religion.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.

This way of love is the way of Jesus. This is the heart of the Jesus movement. And it will turn the world, and the Church, I might add, upside down, which is really right side up.

Let me show you what I mean. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus and a lawyer come to an agreement that love of God and love of neighbor is the standard of all morality. But then the lawyer says (and I paraphrase):

Ok, I’ll grant the point about love for God and neighbor as Moses taught. But we need to carefully define what we mean by neighbor.  Just how expansive or inclusive is this definition? This could have far-reaching impact. So, who exactly is my neighbor?

That’s when Jesus makes up a story, a parable. This guy was walking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road was known to be a pretty dangerous road to travel at night. But this guy needed to go where he was going. As it happened, he got mugged and robbed. He was beaten pretty badly and was lying on the side of the road.  A priest was coming down the same road, saw him lying there, but for whatever reason, walked on by. Another religious leader from the community came by a little later, and probably for fear of his own safety, walked on by, too, leaving the guy on the side of the road. 

Then this Samaritan guy came by. Samaritans were not well-regarded. There was some real animosity toward them that had a long history. But ironically it was that Samaritan who actually stopped, cared for the guy, bound up his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him into town. Then he paid for his health care and made sure the guy was taken care of until he was well.

Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Now, who was a neighbor to the man?”  Jesus didn’t fall for his question. By asking that question, Jesus reveals to that lawyer – and on down the centuries to us — what the love of God really looks like.

But imagine the same parable with slightly different characters. A Christian was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and she fell among thieves. Another Christian came by, but passed on by. Another did the same. And still another follower of Jesus passed on by. A brother or sister who is Muslim came by and stopped and saw her in need and helped her.  Imagine. Who is the neighbor?

It could be a young black or Hispanic youth who is hurt, and a police officer who helps. Or the police officer hurting and the youth who helps. Imagine.

Do you see where Jesus is going?  He’s talking about turning this world upside down.

God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy.

III

Last summer, the 78th General Convention of our Church did a remarkable thing: the General Convention invited us as a church to take this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation. Across the divides that set us apart.  I believe the Holy Spirit showed up. I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Do you realize this Church has taken on two of the most difficult and important works it could ever embrace?”

Let’s get real. Imagine “Jeopardy” or another television game show. The question asked of the contestants is this: “Name two words that begin with ‘E’ but that are never used at the same time.” And the answer? What is ‘Episcopalian’ and ‘evangelism’ ?

I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else.  A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that.

And this idea of reconciliation, beginning with racial reconciliation — really? 

Racial reconciliation is just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realizes justice but really across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God.

This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing.

It’s about God.

In this work of reconciliation we can join hands with others.

It is as the Jesus movement, following Jesus’ way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions and with brothers and sisters who may be atheist or agnostic or just on a journey, but who long for a better world where children do not starve and where is, as the old spiritual says, “plenty good room for all of God’s children.” We can join together to do this work. 

In evangelism and reconciliation has got to be some of the most difficult work possible. But don’t worry.  We can do it. The Holy Spirit has done this work before in The Episcopal Church. And it can be done again for a new day.

It was sometime in the 1940s, when the armed forces had not be desegregated.  Just after the Second World War. In the United States, Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land and the actual practice in other areas, even if it wasn’t technically the law there.

The armed forces had not yet been desegregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were still a unit. Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas had not yet been issued. Long before Rosa Parks had not yet stood up for Jesus by sitting down on that bus in Montgomery. Long before Jackie Robinson was playing baseball, before Martin Luther King, Jr. was still in seminary.

An African American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. They were the only people of color there. The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become ordained as a Baptist preacher.

But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine — out of the same cup.

The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.”

The priest came by uttering these words as each person received the consecrated bread: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup?

The priest came by speaking these words to each person as they drank from the cup: The Blood our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….  Another person drank.  Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.   The person right before her drank.  Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee….  Then she drank.  And be thankful.  She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for.  Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank.  The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee….  And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.

The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church and that he had an evangelism. He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.”

That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.

We are Gods’ children, all of us.  We are God’s baptized children.   We are here to change the world with the power of love.

God really does love us.  

The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st-century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.

Yes, the way of God’s love turns our world upside down. But that’s really right side up. And in that way, the nightmare of this world will be transfigured into the very dream of God for humanity and all creation.

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on God’s world.

And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
God has work for us to do.

Jesus has work for us to do and it’s the Jesus Movement.
So don’t worry. Be happy!

He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.

Thanks to Donovan Marks and Danielle Thomas, photographers

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spong

John Shelby Spong
An Open Letter to My Readers

This week, my column takes the form of a letter to my readers. It is an unusual format, but it speaks to the unusual occurrences in our nation this past week. I hope you will read it. I hope you will respond to it.

Dear Friends,

I am just back from a lecture tour of Europe with a focus on the launch of a French translation of my book: Born of a Woman: A Bishop Re-Thinks the Virgin Birth and the Place of Women in a Male-Dominated Church. It was an exciting and stretching trip about which I will be writing in future weeks.

I returned home, however, to one of the most extraordinary weeks in the life of our nation. So I wanted to use my column this week to reflect on these historic events.

First, there was the cruel murder of nine worshipers, including the pastor at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This horrendous act, motivated as it was by overt racial hatred, seemed, in almost a miraculous way, to bring the latent racism present just beneath the surface of this nation’s life to a head. More than that this act even appeared to “lance’ that residual racism as one might do to a boil, allowing the infection to drain and assisting the healing process to begin. Perhaps it was the witness of the grieving members of that Charleston Christian congregation, who offered both their forgiveness and God’s forgiveness, to the willful killer of their loved ones that did it. In any event, across the South, politicians began to say that it is time to remove the Confederate flag from public places. It is time to stop efforts to make minority voting difficult. It is time to remove the remaining vestiges of slavery from our society. Perhaps this was best symbolized when South Carolina’s Republican State Senator, Paul Thurmond, who in calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol in Columbia said: “I want to be on the right side of history.” He is the son of former United States Senator Strom Thurmond, one of America’s most overt racial agitators and perpetrators in the previous generation, a fact that was not lost on his audience. President Obama, in his role as “pastor in chief,” then spoke to a grieving nation at the funeral in Charleston, in which he brought history and healing together. He never looked or acted more presidential, even as he led the congregation in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Second, there was the 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the Affirmative Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Without endorsing every proviso of this now established law of the land, what the Court did was to make it clear for the first time, that health care in America is a right of citizenship, not a privilege for those who can afford it. It was an amazing moment. That principle finally aligns the United States with all of the other developed nations of the world. It was, thus, a signal victory for a caring society.

Third, the next day the Supreme Court, this time by a 5-4 majority, confirmed the fact that every citizen in every state of this nation, regardless of their differences in sexual orientation, has the same guaranteed right to marriage and family life. No state can now deny either the privilege of marriage, or any of its obvious legal advantages, to any citizen. It was a decision that declared that from this moment on, before the law and the Constitution, there will be no second class citizenship.

When I heard the breaking news announcing this historic decision, tears literally flowed down my cheeks. Memories of a struggle long engaged flooded my mind. I hope you will indulge me as I share some of these with you.

When I was the Bishop of Newark from 1976-2000, I worked, together with the clergy and the people of that diocese, for this day to come. It was a long but tireless struggle. A task force in our Diocese, headed by the late Rev. Dr. Nelson Thayer, an Episcopal priest and a member of the faculty of the Theological School of Drew University, called for this step to be taken as long ago as 1985! After a year of study in our congregations our diocese then affirmed this step by majority vote of its clergy and lay people in our convention of 1986. Our clergy from that moment on were encouraged to “bless the sacred vows of gay and lesbian Christians,” at a time when the State of New Jersey would not allow that to be called marriage. That was also a time when the larger Episcopal Church still sought to discipline or remove those clergy who dared to take these steps. Those years were the context out of which I wrote my book on changing attitudes toward human sexuality, entitled: Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. That book, commissioned by Abingdon Press of the United Methodist Church was then dropped under pressure from conservative Methodist sources just four weeks before its publication. It was subsequently picked up and published in September of 1988 by Harper/Collins. In the first six months of that book’s life it sold more copies than every book I had ever written before had done in their total published life. It also helped to fuel the debate that began to be engaged in all of America’s churches.

On December 16, 1989, I took the next step in what I believed was a prophetic witness. In a packed All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, encouraged by the leaders of this diocese and on behalf of the clergy and people within it, I ordained the Rev. Robert Williams to the priesthood of my church. He was the first openly gay man, living in a publicly acknowledged and committed partnership, ever to be ordained in the Episcopal Church or in the Anglican Communion. It was a courageous and an obviously controversial decision. To conduct this ordination service we had to walk through lines of angry, shouting, placard-carrying picketers. The loudest and angriest of these picketers was a Pentecostal preacher. We also rode the storm of controversy in the aftermath of that ordination. It came from both ecclesiastical and political sources. The next day this action and our diocese were covered in front page newspaper stories across the land. This ordination played every thirty minutes on cable television’s Headline News channel for twenty-four hours. The next week it was the national religion “story of the week” in both Time and Newsweek. The presiding bishop of my church, the Right Reverend Edmund Browning, responded by writing me a condemning letter, despite the fact that I knew that he agreed with me on this action. From January until September of 1990 my wife and I crisscrossed this nation, appearing on every radio and television show to which we could secure an invitation and being interviewed by the print media wherever possible. It was a specific effort to build public support with which to counter the leadership of my church. I used every available political tactic to win this ecclesiastical battle.

In September of that year in a vote taken at a meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in Washington, D. C., my diocese and I as its bishop, were officially condemned for taking this action. The vote, however, was a startling one to those who were so deeply upset and angry and it was also a turning point. The resolution of the bishops “to disassociate themselves from the Bishop of Newark and his Diocese for carrying out this ‘irregular ordination” was only passed by a vote of 78-74 with two abstentions! That was far closer than anyone had believed possible. I was one of the two abstentions. I guess I did not know how to vote on whether I wanted to associate with myself or not! Following that vote, by a previous arrangement with the Presiding Bishop of my church, who had by now voted for me rather than against me, I was recognized to speak. I did so for forty-five minutes. It was purple-passionate oratory in which I traced my own changing attitudes from the overt homophobia taught to me by the church of my youth and undergirded by quotations from the Bible lifted primarily out of the book of Leviticus, to the place where I was willing to put my career on the line in order to be an advocate for the full inclusion of homosexual people in the life of both our nation and my church. I asserted my firm belief that the only “sin” of which homosexual people might be held to be guilty was that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. Homosexuality, I informed my fellow bishops, had come to be newly understood by me, chiefly through the work and the friendship of Dr. Robert Lahita, a member of the faculty at the Cornell School of Medicine in New York City. I now saw it as a “given” not a “chosen.” Homosexuality, I continued, is something that one “is” not something that one “does.” Homosexuality thus was no different in its moral character from being left handed or having a particular skin pigmentation or a particular eye color. To discriminate against other human beings because of a “given” in their lives could never be moral. As a Christian I too sought to undergird my new attitude with biblical quotations. Jesus was quoted in the Bible as having said: “Come unto me all ye.” He did not say: “some of ye.” No one was ever portrayed in the Bible as rejected by him. Jesus was also quoted as having said: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” No one can give life by being prejudiced against who or what a person is. The world might judge a person’s doing, but not a person’s being. No church should ever sing: “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come,” unless the members of that church are prepared to welcome those who presented themselves in response to this invitation. Anything else is sheer hypocrisy.

Following that speech, between ten and twelve bishops crowded around my desk to tell me that if they had heard what I had to say before they voted, they would have changed their vote. At that moment in September of 1990, I knew that the majority of the Episcopal bishops had now walked beyond this dying cultural prejudice. That majority has never been lost in the House of Bishops from that day to this. Later that night, two bishops came out of the closet to me. Both of them were married. One had voted to disassociate from me. The other had voted against doing so.

When I retired as the bishop of this diocese in 2000, I had thirty-five out of the closet, ordained gay and lesbian clergy serving in the ranks of our priesthood. Thirty-one of them lived openly with their partners. They were wonderful, effective, loving priests and pastors. I was proud to be their bishop. I still am. They helped to make me whole.

So, on June 26, 2015, by a majority vote of the highest court of this land, the struggle for full equality for the LGBT community has now been established. The question is now asked as to whether clergy will be “forced” to do gay marriages. In the diocese I once represented but which is now under the leadership of our bishop, and my close friend, the Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, I think the world can be certain that the Episcopal clergy there are ready, willing and able to offer the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and all of the other ministries of the church to all our people without exception. The Christian Church is and must always be a “Come as you are” party. This prejudice of the ages has now been thrown onto the scrapheap of history.

It was a very good week for our nation. I rejoice in it, welcome it and give thanks to God for it. The world and the church have the opportunity today to be more profoundly Christian than we were able to be just last week. That is a powerful and a welcomed realization.

John Shelby Spong

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory