The TV cameras caught Harry’s reaction. ‘Wow!’ After 13 minutes 43 seconds, Bishop Michael Curry had just wrapped up a sermon that was meant to have lasted just six minutes.
The prince wasn’t the only one looking slightly shellshocked. Other members of the Royal Family shared bemused glances and surreptitious grins.
However, nobody who knows Bishop Curry would have been surprised that, when offered the opportunity to address the British Royal Family and a watching worldwide TV audience of around two billion, he would veer off his script (written on his iPad) and embark on a passionate speech about love, peace and racial equality.
For in America, the 65-year-old is well-known for his fire-breathing Southern Baptist-style preaching, full of rhetoric and hyperbole.
Indeed, Sundays aren’t the same in North Carolina, where he normally preaches, without his long-winded, meandering homilies accompanied by his gesticulating hands.
For a British audience, quotations from a cleric in St George’s Chapel from the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King would have come as a surprise.
However, Curry is not a Baptist minister like Martin Luther King. He is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion and America’s snootiest and richest Christian denomination.
Few vicars at an English summer wedding, though, will have ever peppered their address to a bride and groom with references to slavery and calls for an end to war, hunger and poverty.
But then this was not a usual English summer wedding. This featured a mixed race bride whose great-great-great grandfather chose a surname after slavery was abolished in 1865.
Thus Curry intoned: ‘Love can help and heal when nothing else can.’ He seemed to revel in the consternation he was causing in some congregants. But as the first black leader of a very white church, he is used to challenging rigid orthodoxy.
His grandparents were all the grandchildren of slaves in Alabama and North Carolina. The African-American spirituals, such as the one he quoted on Saturday, were passed down through the generations of his family.
He and his sister, Sharon, learnt them from their grandmother, Nellie Strayhorn, as they sat in the kitchen while she cooked.
Nellie’s daughter — the bishop’s mother — grew up as a Baptist but switched to the Episcopal Church after she read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, also author of the Narnia children’s stories.
Her husband and Curry’s father, a Baptist pastor and civil rights activist, followed her into the Episcopal Church and was ordained.
He converted after joining her at a Sunday service and being impressed to see her, a black woman, being offered communion wine from the same chalice used by white congregation members.
The young Michael Curry spent most of his childhood in Buffalo, near the Canadian border in New York. Back then, in the Fifties and Sixties, racial segregation was a fact of life — even at church.
Tragically, his mother died after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage when he was in his early teens. His gran, Nellie, then looked after the family. Amid the racism they faced, she instilled in the young Michael the belief that all races were equal in God’s eyes.
As a family, they prayed every night. The young Curry would secretly hope that his father’s prayers would not go on too long, saying: ‘If it was the Baptist prayer, it would go on forever.’ An ironic comment in view of his own protracted sermon on Saturday!
SOURCE: TOM LEONARD