Adding Wattage to the Cultural Spotlight on PB Curry
October 21, 2019 News
By Kirk Petersen
Nearly a year and a half after the Royal Wedding, random people in airports still recognize Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry.
By some estimates, nearly 2 billion people watched Curry’s thundering testament to the power of love at the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in May 2018. Even if the actual number was much smaller, there is no doubt it was one of the most widely watched sermons ever delivered.
Now the Episcopal Church has launched an ambitious effort to leverage the charisma of its leader and promote a message of love in a society wracked by bitter divisions. The centerpiece of the initiative is a revival planned for a major New York City venue — eight days before the 2020 presidential election.
“We’re looking at doing a revival in either Madison Square Garden, or the Barclay Center, or Yankee Stadium,” said the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation.
Spellers and others reported on the plans at a Sunday evening committee session of the Executive Council, which serves as the governing body of the church between triennial General Conventions. The council meets three times a year, and gathered for four days in Montgomery, Alabama, October 18-21. The council approved the program, dubbed “Sharing the Way of Love,” in its final business meeting.
In addition to the revival, plans call for increasing the production values of the ongoing Way of Love podcast series and the Traveling the Way of Love video series. Staff members have also had preliminary conversations with networks such as Netflix for a possible streaming TV series exploring faith. All of it would be backed by “a top-tier marketing effort,” Spellers said.
The estimated price tag for all of this is $1.3 million, which is quite a bit more than the church can shake loose from nooks and crannies of the budget. Much of the money would be raised by the development office, targeting primarily high-net-worth individuals, and development officers reported strong preliminary interest. The cost and effort would be shared with partners including the the Episcopal dioceses of New York and Long Island; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and ELCA’s New York Synod.
“To be very blunt, the face of Christianity in the United States is not a face that looks like Jesus and the Way of Love. It’s very often the opposite, in fact,” Curry said. “I also think it would be helpful for a profoundly divided and polarized nation to proclaim that the values and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are what it means to be Christian.”
“Bishop Curry is still viewed as an extraordinary person of faith that organizations like Netflix and other major broadcasters are looking to and saying, ‘this could be a moral voice in our country right now, in a country that’s really crying out for a moral voice,’ said the Rev. Geof Smith, the chief operating officer. “That’s why, from a communications standpoint, we’re looking at bringing in resources to go beyond simply reaching out to the Episcopal Church — in effect, preaching to the choir — to take this message of evangelism on a much larger scale, and a much larger stage.”
People don’t ordinarily associate the Episcopal Church — “God’s frozen people” — with the idea of a stadium-size religious revival. But Curry is not an ordinary Episcopal leader. Since his election in 2015 evangelism has been one of the three missional pillars of his episcopacy (along with racial reconciliation and care of creation). The church has devoted increasing resources to church planting and other forms of evangelism. A series of revivals began more than two years ago with a March 2017 event in Pittsburgh attended by a few hundred people.
“We’ve done 13 of these [revivals] so far across the Church,” Spellers said. “We’ve learned a lot. About 25,000 people have participated in the revivals. We’ve also run at least 10 evangelist trainings specifically leading up to revivals.”
No one on the council mentioned it, but all were surely aware that the Church could benefit from a higher profile. Year after year, for decades now, the church has annually reported declining membership and worship attendance, on pace with the increasing secularization of American society.
Council members peppered the staff with questions about the initiative for nearly an hour at the end of a long day.
One concern was that coverage of the October 26, 2020 revival could be lost in the pre-election hubbub. Curry acknowledged that possibility, but also expressed hope that the revival could provide a “counter-narrative” that many people would welcome.
To questions about the cost, various staff members emphasized that no part of the program would move forward until the church obtains written commitments of sufficient financial support.
There was a concern that people in the rest of the country would be put off by the fact the revival would be held in New York. Spellers reiterated that previous revivals have been all over the country, and said dioceses in some of the largest urban areas have asked “are you avoiding us?”
Julia Harris, a council member from the Diocese of Oklahoma and a long-time professional for non-profits, said “The time is right for something like this.” Addressing the presiding bishop directly, she said, “We have this moment in the cultural spotlight, because you’re recognizable, like Geof said. You speak on behalf of something that’s attracting people — not just to you, but to God and Jesus.”
It surely is no accident that Jesus said “They will know you are my disciples by your Love”. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, a new quasi-Anglican breakaway Church, calling itself the “Confessing Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand” has set itself up as a rival to the “Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand and Pasifika” – which 3-stand Church covers the territory of New Zealand and the adjacent Islands of the Pacific Ocean under the acronym ACANZP.
Ironically – it was reaching in love and acceptance of Same-Sex Marriage partners to offer the Blessing of God in our Church that motivated this new quasi-Anglican Church to set itself up – having its own schismatic bishop ordained by GAFCON prelates from foreign quasi-Anglican jurisdictions – in a Presbyerian College Assembly Hall in Christchurch last Saturday – 19 October 2019.
Archbishop Michael Curry’s own Church, TEC – the Anglican Episcopal Churcvh in the United States of America suffered a shismatic severance – by the setting up of another quasi-Anglican Church in North America, calling themselves the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) – which was also raised up with the help of GAFCON prelates in the very same way. It was the Archbishop of ACNA who, under the provenance of the GAFCON Primates was present at the ordination of the N.Z. schismatic, taking a leading role in the ordination of the secessionist bishop.
The GAFCON organisation was helped to birth by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, whose immediate successor, Archbishop Glen Davies, the current Archbishop of Sydney – together with the Archbishop of Tasmania and other GAFCON bishops from the Continent of Africa ( notably not South Africa, whose former Archbishop Desmond Tutu would not join GAFCON) were all present in Christchurch to launch this new para-Anglican Church.
The issue of Same-Sex Marriage and/or Blessings thereof, which are now common to many main-line Anglican Churches – including TEC, under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and the Anglican Church of Canada – is just one of the issues which has caused schismatic severance from some Provincial Churches in the world-wide Anglican Communion – the latest of which has now occurred here in New Zealand.
It is ironical that the basic issue of human sexuality and gender should be the cause of schism in the Church, when loving. monogamous human relationships are a fundamental basis of our modern-day society which many Christians believe should be recognised and encouraged by our Church. Sadly, however, the more strictly conservative amongst us have decided that such relationships – outside of the married, binary heterosexual majority – are sinful or un-natural. They are using the Bible to undergird their reason for separating themselves out as the standard on which their appeal to righeousness is based.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and Archbishop Justin Welby, set new parameters in conducting the Wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle (a divorced woman) in a ceremony where the Primate of the U.S. Episcopal Church spoke about the LOVE OF GOD, which looks beyond our sinful human nature, not holding our sins against us, when we come to recognise his rule over our lives. His message was glady received by a vast audience around the world, who could not but have heard the tenor of his eitrenic sermon – that Love is primary. That the love of God is the message of God’s Church – the only message that will overcome Prejudice, Hatred and Sin.
The United States of America needs that message – at a time when the Christian Right Conservatives who are backing the President’s movement against immigrants, the poor and defenceless; are attempting to raise up a puritannical theocratic state that will outlaw other faith communities, as well as gender and sexual minorities, whose presence in American society is now being vigorously suppressed by the repeal of enabling legislation that allowed them to exist peacefully in a more tolerant society.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain is also split by those who want to isolate themselves from what they see as a takeover bid from Europe, while on the other side, there are those who want to be part of a more integrated Europe, with a more ecclectic society and common interests. The fear of ‘difference’, too, is at the heart of those who are afraid of the influence of foreigners and their way of living.
Bishop Michael’s determination to revolutionise the insular outlook in the life of the American people under Donald Trump, is a very brave and very important attempt to bring people together in a quality of common respect and co-existence that embraces difference – rather than living in fear of other people. Such is the Commonwealth of loving relationship that Jesus preached and inaugurated with his talk of The Kingdom of God; where LOVE is the common denominator, the one and only medium capable of casting out fear.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealamd