The following is a transcript of the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting virtually through October 12.
October 9, 2020
In the United States we are in the midst of an election season. A time of heightened tensions. A time when our past, in a variety of ways, is haunting the reality of our present. Whether it is about race and racism, whether it is about the polarization that often has roots in divisions that have been part of American society for a long time, it’s not only about race, but class and who's in and who's out, and who feels left out.
The first chapter of John's Gospel, the coming of Jesus of Nazareth into this world, his teachings, his manner of life, his way of love is pictured poetically in these words:
In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Th[at] light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
That light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not, cannot, and will not overcome it.
Matthew's Gospel picks up the same witness in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, which at one time in the history of the church served as the catechism for what it meant to follow Jesus. And in that Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the compassionate, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God's righteousness, God's justice might prevail in all the Earth. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you.
In the context of those teachings, Matthew records teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus saying of this way of love and those who would dare to follow him in living them:
You are the light of the world. A city [that is] built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel [basket], but on the lamp stand [that it might give] light to [the whole house]. In the same way let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
We must in this moment, maybe in this darkening hour, now is the time to let your light shine. Moments of darkness are not the time to hide the light under a bushel, rather when it is darkness, that is precisely the time when the light must shine the brightest.
Whether it is the moment of the killing of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, or the moment of the attempted killing of two law enforcement officers in California, or just yesterday the moment of a plot to kidnap and kill the governor of Michigan. My God, have we lost our minds?
When it is darkness, when it is darkest and it feels like it's all gone crazy, that is when Auden's words “that it seems as if the center is not holding,” that is precisely the time when the light must shine. But it's salutary to remember Dr. King's wise admonition, that darkness cannot cast out darkness, only light can do that. Just as hatred cannot cast out hatred, only love, only love can do that.
Now is not the time my dear, my beloved Episcopal Church. I know we're God's shy children. That's who we are, that's okay. I may not be that shy, but that's a part of our charism. And that's all right. That's who we are. But now is not the time to hide this light under the bushel, now is the time to lift up this light, this light of the way of love is light that we've gotten from Jesus, and let it shine even, and in spite of, whatever may happen around us.
Now is the time when Thomas Cranmer’s Advent collect, rings true,
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the
armor of light.
Now, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, the Episcopal Church please let this light shine.
But I got to tell you something, I'm seeing. Just as Anne Kitch was talking about that light on that leaf, there are shards, there are rays of light around. There is light. Do not be deceived by the darkness. It is real, but it is not ultimate. There is light. I'm seeing it in our churches. I'm seeing people doing all sorts of things that, whether they thought about it this way or not, that lets this light shine. They're organizing prayer networks, doing things on Zoom around this election and around this time. Things are happening all over the church. Just read, just go on Facebook and ignore what the trolls have put on there, just look at what Episcopal churches and people are doing.
There's light, but it's not just our churches, I'm seeing it ecumenically. And it's not just Christian folk. I'm seeing folk of goodwill of all religions, and all stripes and types, people of human decency who say, "We can't keep going on like this." There's light all around, do not let the darkness deceive you into thinking it is more powerful than it is. It is not.
Oh, Anne was right because she said, "Oh, I love that passage in Peter, 'Oh the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.'" Well, we want the devil to be hungry, because he's not going to find anybody to devour, because there's enough light around. We're not giving in to lies, and to evil, and to wrong, and injustice, and to bigotry, and violence; but we will not cast out the darkness by more darkness. Only light can do that. And there is light around.
Let me suggest a couple of ways we can let that light shine even in this time of darkness.
From October 2th through November 4th, which encompasses election day, Forward Movement Publications and our Office of Government Relations are organizing a season of prayer, a novena, which is a nine-day period of intentional prayer for a specific intention, a time of prayer for an election.
If you go to the Forward Movement website, you'll find resources there, a prayer for each day, from October 27th to November 4th. These prayers will also be posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You can sign-up if you want to get them in your email.
Don't underestimate the power of prayer.
On the 1st of November, will be a national service of prayer at our Washington National Cathedral. It will be an ecumenical and interfaith service. It will be an opportunity to bring together the prayers and the hopes of people throughout this country, and people around the world: November 1st. And then from November 1st until November 5th, there's going to be a prayer hotline, a joint project with Try Tank at Virginia Theological Seminary, General Theological Seminary, and members of our staff working together to create this prayer hotline.
Two hundred volunteers, both English and Spanish speakers, have been vetted and trained to staff the hotline. Oh, we can let this light shine in congregations all over this church, dioceses all over this church. We need to pray, pray, pray, pray; praying like the woman in that parable, driving the Lord crazy. Pray, just pester the Lord, tell him I said so, because prayer matters. And it does something.
Additionally, there are efforts already underway to support clergy and lay leaders who are providing pastoral presence in a variety of contexts. A webinar for clergy and lay leaders who wish to be a pastoral presence at the polls, as people are voting, not to be a partisan presence, but a pastoral presence is planned; details will be announced soon.
Training webinars focused on training Episcopal leaders to be a peaceful, prayerful presence in the midst of direct action and protests are also available. The Reconciliation and Justice Team working with Ethnic Ministries offered their first training earlier this week; others are scheduled for the weeks ahead.
On the Office of Government Relations’ website, you'll find resources related to civic engagement, the Vote Faithfully Election Engagement toolkit, a Sermons That Work election series of bulletin inserts, From Pew to the Public Square resource offering guidance on moral discernment and decision making for social and community change, as well as a call for poll worker recruitment.
This election, there is significant concern of a lack of poll workers due to the high risk of COVID-19 and the history of poll workers predominately coming from older persons who are at higher risk. We are encouraging those in lower risk categories to consider becoming a poll worker.
I know clergy and others are struggling with what to say and how to say it in these divided times. I want to call your attention to three resources:
From our Office of Government Relations, Make Me an Instrument of Peace: A Guide to Civil Discourse. This interactive, five session curriculum and guide offers hope that by using the tool of civil discourse, we can find new ways to love our neighbor. We need this. If you don't believe me, did you see the first presidential debate? We need this resource.
Bishop Mark Beckwith, and a number of other Episcopalians have been very involved in the Braver Angels Initiative, in the program called With Malice Toward None. It’s designed to bring people, red and blue, people who disagree, together to share our common humanity, to find ways to talk together and live together, to kneel before each other, and to stand with our integrities, and yet to kneel as fellow children of God.
And lastly, the Diocese of Indianapolis may have given us all something we can all do, it's called Light, Pray, Vote. It's very simple, what you see on the screen is the logo they've created, and that's on their website, the Diocese of Indianapolis, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, and her team, they have just done something really... they've given us all a gift. Go to their website, and go because today, what you see on the screen is already there. But on Monday, they'll have one that you can download and customize for your parish or your diocese, or whatever. It's something that we can all do, and it's not complicated. It's not complex, but it matters, light, pray and vote.
So, why not light a candle? Whether electric or the real candles in our windows at Christmas, why not light a candle? It's in our tradition to light candles, it's in the tradition of Hanukkah to light candles. So why not in this time of election light a candle while it's dark, and cast away the darkness? Light and pray and vote. The light matters, it's real.
I think often, of my slave ancestors for whom darkness was a way of life. Imagine. I can't even imagine being taken and separated from my children and my family. I mean, being taken away from everybody that made Michael, Michael. I can't imagine being carted off to someplace I never knew, packed in the holds of ships with other people, also captives, who spoke different languages; we couldn’t even understand each other.
I can't imagine being taken to new lands, and feeling like a motherless child a long, long way from home. That feels about as dark as it can get. And yet those who were made so captive are the ones who taught us to sing, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine." And if they could do it, we can do it.
This light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine
God love you. God bless you. Amen.