Episcopal Church House of Bishops March 2020: Presiding Bishop’s opening message, March 10, 2020

March 13, 2020

Release of this statement was intentionally delayed, providing space to share Bishop Curry’s messages related to COVID-19.

Due to an abundance of caution related to the coronavirus, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishop’s March 2020 meeting was changed from Camp Allen in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to a virtual meeting, with each bishop participating via webinar and online meeting software.

The following is Presiding Bishop’s opening message. It has been lightly edited.

The Virtual Gathering of the House of Bishops March 10, 2020
We Must Become Part of a Big Family
Remarks by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Allow me to begin with the words and wisdom of slaves, who in their time were well acquainted with sorrow, hardship, and uncertainty. In one of their spirituals they may well be giving us some advice. They said, and I quote:

Walk together children
And don't you get weary
Cause there’s a great camp meeting
in the promised land

I

In this particular moment, when we are all affected by the coronavirus and its collateral effects and impacts, whether directly or indirectly, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, or economically, we are all affected. The truth is we are all in this together. We did not choose it this way. But we are.

We’ve been in this together whether we were aware of it, or wanted to acknowledge it, or not.

We’re in this together. We’re actually part of each other for good or ill. We are a human family. We may be a dysfunctional human family; but we are family. And the truth is, God made us this way. God made us for God and for each other. And we are at our best when we are one with our God and one with each other.

The story of Adam and Eve may be saying precisely that. As long as Adam and Eve are in a loving relationship with God, each other, and creation, they are in paradise. And when those relationships are broken or fractured by the self-centeredness that our tradition calls sin, they are kicked out of the garden, out of paradise. Paradise lost! The Ubuntu saying is true, “I am because we are.” And we must walk this journey, not alone, but together.

Walk together children
And don't you get weary
Cause there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land

II

Last weekend I was with some of you in Cuba for the service of readmission and reunion of the Cuban and Episcopal Church.  In March of last year, at the last Synod as the separate church of Cuba, our sister, Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, the Bishop, said that this reunion or readmission was important because, “we must be part of a big family.” That was prophecy. That was a word from the Lord. That was the Spirit speaking to the churches. That was prophecy, not just for the church of Cuba in the Episcopal Church. Not just for The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. Not just for the Anglican Communion in the whole of the Christian world. We must become a part of a big family! Now those are words of prophecy.

I am convinced that God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to live in a right and reconciled relationship with the God and Creator of us all, and the way to live in a right and reconciled relationship with each other as children of that God — brothers, sisters, siblings of each other.

Jesus came to show us that God’s way of love is the way to that right and reconciled relationship with God and with each other. It is the way to live not merely as individual collections of self-interest and self-centeredness. [It’s] a way to become more than our national identities, our racial identities, our political identities, our gender, or other identities. He came to show us that we can be more than that, to show us the way to live as God’s beloved community, the way to live as the family of God, embracing each other and the very creation of God himself.

And that is hope for us all.

Walk together children
And don't you get weary
Cause there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land

And Jesus was unambiguously clear, unambiguously clear, that the way to that, the way to beloved community, the way to become God’s family is God’s way of love. It’s the only way to become the beloved community. Because love, love has the capacity and only love has that capacity to move Michael Curry beyond Michael’s self-centeredness to other centeredness: Centeredness on God and on others. Love can do that. Love moves us beyond ourselves to the other. And this way of love, this way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love that seeks the way, the good of the other sometimes beyond even my own unenlightened self-interest. This way of love is the way of the cross. It is the way of hope and the way of life. It is the way to become a human family as God first dreamed, envisioned, and as God intends.

Walk together children
And don't you get weary
Cause there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land

This is not a pipe dream. This is a hope. Dr. King had it right long ago: we should either learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. The choice is ours: chaos or community.

III

In the sixth century, it was Bertha and Ethelbert, King and Queen of England who sent word to Pope Gregory the Great (for whom the Gregorian chant is named) and asked for missionaries to come to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons. And Pope Gregory sent the missionaries. The mission was led by one known as Augustine of Canterbury who eventually became the 1st Archbishop of Canterbury.  They evangelized the English.

Soon after I became Presiding Bishop, I went to Canterbury to be with the other Primates of the Anglican Communion. We gathered at Canterbury Cathedral, in the crypt. And there in the crypt was the crozier of Pope Gregory the Great. As a symbol of blessing and support, Pope Francis made it possible for the crozier of Pope Gregory the Great, to be sent to England to sit in our presence during our deliberations.

The atmosphere as you may remember was tense. No one was really sure whether the union would hold together or fly apart and dissolve. We’re still together. But no one knew for sure at that moment.

While we sat in deliberations that week, the head of the bishop’s staff, the crozier sat there in our midst as a reminder that somebody sent some traveling evangelists and missionaries from Rome to Britain. They brought a message of one called Jesus; his way of love and life. And that evangelism gave birth to who we are, even today. We are here because in the sixth century some traveling evangelist, a bishop with a crozier in hand, brought the Good News of God’s love we know in Jesus, to England.

The crozier, which every one of us has and which each of us was given at our ordination and consecration, has many symbolisms. It is called variously a crozier, a pastoral staff, a stick. Some are simple and wooden, some are Victorian and ornate, but the crozier, the pastoral staff, the crook, the stick; we’ve all got one. We were all given one. It’s a reminder of a bishop as a shepherd.

1 Peter says that like Jesus, the good and great shepherd, bishops are to “Tend the flock of Christ committed to your charge,” 1 Peter 5:2. In the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer, we pray that the new bishop will “Feed and tend the flock of Christ.”

We call our crozier a pastoral staff and that is right. It’s good that we carry them in our hands now instead of having someone carry them in front of us. We are not princes and princesses. We are shepherds.

The staff does have another meaning. I stumbled upon it some years ago when I was looking at “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church,” edited by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum. It said of the crozier and I quote:

“The pastoral staff of a bishop. It was originally a walking stick and later acquired the symbolism of a shepherd’s crook. It is a sign of pastoral authority.”

Whatever else it is, your crozier, your staff is a walking stick.  It is the walking stick not of the settled parson, but of one who travels. It is the walking stick of a traveling, itinerant, minister. It is the walking stick of a traveling evangelist.

In this time, in this moment, we who are bishops and we who are the church must reclaim our primal worth of evangelizing a culture and a world. This time, not to raise up a Christendom, but to evangelize, to re-evangelize the West now to the way of Jesus whose way is the way of love. To the way beyond selfishness, the way beyond self-centeredness, the way to a loving, liberating, life giving; the way to a real relationship with God who is the creator of all of us. A creator who didn’t do it because he had to but created us because God loved us. That God, who invited us into a relationship with, as my gramma used to say, “that good God.” The God who invited us into relationship with each other as children of God. As brothers, sisters, and siblings.

Our work of evangelism is to re-evangelize the West now. Not in the sixth century but in the 21st. To help the world to see Jesus, to see his way of love is the way of life, the way to become God’s human family. The way to become the beloved community that embraces us all in the whole creation.

Bishop Griselda, you were right. We must become part of a big family.

Walk together children.
Don’t you get weary.
Cause there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land.

Amen