Union of Black Episcopalians Marks 50 Years: ‘Glory of the Past, Hope for the Future’

Bishop Michael Curry at the 50th meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians.
Bishop Michael Curry at the 50th meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry electrified hundreds of worshippers who chanted “Love Lifted Me” along with him at Christ Church Cathedral here in Nassau during the July 24 opening Eucharist of the 50th annual meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

More than 800 Bahamian and U.S. laity, clergy, dignitaries and officials responded passionately as Curry invoked the hymn, a favorite of his grandmother: “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more, but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

“Love lifted me! Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, love lifted me!”

Curry’s sermon, laced with frequent call-and-response, spontaneous laughter and sustained applause, echoed his familiar ‘Love is the way, the only way, there is no other way’ mantra, as he challenged worshippers to embrace Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

UBE President Annette Buchanan also invoked the rich spiritual heritage of black Episcopalians. She reminded the congregation that although the organization is observing its 50th annual conference, its precursors date to the pre-Civil War era.

“African-Americans were in the Episcopal Church prior to the civil war,” Buchanan told the gathering during the service. “We were the largest number of congregants in the church because we were slaves and Episcopalians.”

The earliest known national organization among black Episcopalians was the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church Among Colored People, founded by the Rt. Rev. James Theodore Holly of St. Luke’s Church, New Haven, who is considered the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church.

That organization began in1865, with four clergy and seven congregations, according to the Rev. J. Carlton Hayden, in an article on the UBE website. Holly later served as bishop of Haiti.

Post-Civil War, many former slaves left the Episcopal Church, Buchanan said. “But those of us who are here decided we were going to make this church what it said it was going to be—a place where all are welcome and where there will be justice for all.”

Buchanan said more than 300 youth and adult, laity and clergy registered for the July 24-27 conference, themed “Glory of the Past, Hope for the Future” at the Meliá Nassau Beach Resort. “Those of us who are here are descendants of those folks, who said we are not going anywhere,” she said. “We are going to make this church a better place.”

The Rt. Rev. Laish Zane Boyd, Sr., bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and celebrant at the three-hour service, welcomed Curry and UBE conference participants.

“UBE is 50 years old and has chosen to hold its annual conference for the first time outside the U.S. and, we approve,” Boyd said amid laughter and applause.

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SOURCE: Pat McCaughan
Episcopal News Service