Episcopal Church Executive Council: opening remarks from the Presiding Bishop
The following is a transcript of the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting through October 21 at the Embassy Suites Montgomery Hotel and Conference Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
October 18, 2019
I’d like to talk with you this morning about two things. One has to do with our ongoing work in reconciliation, of which being here is part of that ongoing work . . . for a number of years, but in particular, I just wanted to flag two things:
One - You may not know that in the House of Bishops in September, Bishop Tom Breidenthal, the chair of the Theology Committee of the House, which is composed of a couple of bishops . . . a group of theologians and leaders in the field of theology and global ethics, who have been working for a while on another substantive paper, not just for bishops, but eventually for the whole church, that takes the next step from the last statement or paper that the House of Bishops had done in the 90s on the sin of racism. You may remember that, probably mid-90s or late 90s. This will kind of be the next step.
When the committee began their work and their research, they went deeper, and they realized that they needed to name and engage more deeply, and I think this is a courageous decision on their part: The sin of white supremacy. And they really did, they've done some remarkable work, and just honest work, and it's coming, it's still in some revision, they did a preliminary presentation, we spent a morning on that at the House. But I just wanted you to know that and that's eventually coming, coming your way, as a paper and possibly a study resource for the church. And it's really a fine piece of work and a tough piece of work, but they had the courage to do it. And I thank them for it.
The other thing is, and I just want to again, thank you, Executive Council, for coming to Montgomery. This is a normal, small city, with a big, huge history. But it is not just the history of Montgomery, Alabama, and it is not just the history of the South. It is the history of America. And that's important to remember for all of us. This is the United States of America. And, it's not just a southern story. It's not just a regional story. And the truth is it's not just an ethnic story. It's not just the story of black and white. It is the story of America and our struggle to make “e pluribus unum” more than simply a Latin phrase. It goes to the heart of the struggle of our nation to truly be one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.
And that applies the lessons here. Apply not only to our troubles around slavery of Africans. It applies to our treatment of indigenous people in this country. It applies to how we as a nation have impacted people in places that were colonies of the United States.
I have never – one of the learnings of being Presiding Bishop, is that we have a painful colonial character that impacts us and this church to this very day. It is not just the British Empire that has sinned. America, the American Empire has sinned. And yet, we must face it honestly, and I thank this church. And this council for having the courage and the faith to do that.
So I would just give you a little prayer, a poem, as we go on that journey. Near the end of Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning”, Maya said it this way:
So say to the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
That's the spirit of being in Montgomery.
Now that’s the first thing. I said these were going to be short remarks. The second is, is related tangentially. [unintelligible] We've been talking, a group have been talking for a while about the impact both of the Way of Love, as a commitment to our following Jesus and His way. And we focused primarily on living that out as a church. And I think that's most important. You can’t ask anybody else to do what you aren’t doing yourself. And this, and our Church has really engaged this in ways that I just, anyway, it’s beyond me. Because I think it reflects who we really are.
Anyway, so we focused and Stephanie Spellers and the whole cluster of people who have worked on both resources and making them available through the web and all of that, that work has been remarkable, and I gotta tell you, I mean, everybody from religious community, to theologians, to formation people have come together and just jumped in and made this possible. I mean and really, it's remarkable work. There are resources available. And now when I go and talk to dioceses, when somebody says, “What does the Church do for small churches?” I said “Let me tell you something. Go to The Episcopal Church website and type in Way of Love.” And I have a little joke, I usually say, in the olden days, before we it got fixed if you just typed in the Way of Love on the web you would get websites that was not The Episcopal Church . . .
So go to The Episcopal Church website first! Type in Way of Love and you’ll get it, and there are resources, and they're expanding their materials for the season of Advent. I think Lent is coming. It's already here? Lent is already here, there are resources now with a real emphasis on small groups, engaging the different spiritual practices of the Way of Love. It's been remarkable.
But we started thinking, is this something that The Episcopal Church, not just the material, but what's really behind the message of Jesus and his way of love, is this potentially a contribution of The Episcopal Church in our time to American culture? In this particular moment in America and I'm talking about the United States right now.
I was in Baltimore yesterday to bury an old friend, Rev. Ron Miller. Yeah, Ron Miller. [Aside: I didn’t realize you didn’t realize it until just now.] Yeah. And his wife – I was there a year ago, literally, a year ago that same time, to bury his wife Mary. And, and I was doing final touches on the sermon. I got up early and kind of was finishing off everything. And I just turned the news on in the background. It was about five-thirty in the morning, and they announced that Elijah Cummings had died. He was my congressman when I was rector of St. James Baltimore.
Elijah Cummings was a dear, courageous, deeply devout follower of Jesus. I remember him . . . in Baltimore; he always came to St. James, especially during election season and was just a good human being who really did try to live out the soulful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
And one of the stories about him that really is true is that he had a deep and real friendship with Congressman Mark Meadows, from North Carolina, from the Charlotte area. Who is as conservative, almost as you could get. They probably didn't agree on much of anything, but they did agree that they were children of God and they were brothers. And they were actually best friends. They really were. They didn’t agree on politics. At least most things. But they were brothers, children of God. And that relationship transcended the differences between them. They were able to live with profound difference. Both of them holding on to their integrity.
The United States is being torn asunder within by the inability to be in deep relationship with each other and yet hold differing positions and convictions. And the test of this democratic experiment will be the capacity of this particular nation to hold differences in the context of deep and real human relationships.
I really believe that Jesus was right. That the Way of Love, doesn't mean the way of agreement. But it means the capacity to love each other, and therefore, to seek the good together. Whether we agree or disagree. The democratic experiment; this is not just religious platitude.
Dr. King once said, “History is replete with the bleached bones of civilization that have refused to listen to (Jesus),” who said love your enemies, bless those who curse you.
This country must not become a valley of dry bones. And frankly, the only way is the way of love.
There is no other way.
And maybe, this wonderful little church of ours, can offer that. This Way of Love. Teachings of Jesus, of the way of love, to the body politic. Not for political ends, not to change anybody's vote. But to change how we relate to each other as human beings. And then we see what happens.
And so, those are some of the possibilities we've really been looking at. And we've been in conversation with some of it - the revival in New York is actually moving forward, actually, in the two New York dioceses and the ELCA Synod are committed. The Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church in America is on board, and it will be a revival of the ELCA Synod that covers the entire New York and Long Island, and the Episcopal Diocese of New York and Long Island, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. We're going to come together; we're looking for a big venue. We've already done some preliminary conversations for funding to make it possible. This is about to get the message of the Way of Love out and to take and to go right out into the Apple and start there.
Not the end, but the intent is to start there and then there are other things as well, that they're going to cost money we'll, we'll figure it out, its on God, it happens, it is not difficult. And the reality is that . . . relationship is everything and I love you!
But the hope is to really find ways to get this message out. I have to tell you I, you know, back when I was, before I was, elected. And I remember answering the questions on the third committee, the committee to nominate, on the CEO and I responded, you know, I know how to make an organization run, I know how to do that. But I think the church needs a chief evangelism officer. I'm not sure I knew exactly what that might look like. I knew I didn’t. It was gut instinct.
But seeing our country now. In deep pain. I think I know what evangelism was about. To help us learn how to love again. And if we do that, it will not only help the United States, but it can help the other countries of the world. And maybe the words of Dr. King, the question of Dr. King, will be answered. When he said we should either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools. And then he added, the choice is ours. Chaos, or community? We must choose community. The Beloved Community. And in that community, as the old slaves used to say there's plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.