The Episcopal Church is going Jesus on you. And this is no Jesus you’ve ever been hurt by. This is the life-affirming, love-giving Jesus who is everywhere. He’s at Pride, he’s at the bus stop, he’s at Burning Man, he’s in your kitchen. And everywhere he is, he’s giving people hugs and cake.
On November 1st, 2015, I will join many thousands, maybe millions, of Episcopalians celebrating the Installation of our new Presiding Bishop and Chief Primate (yes, all Episcopalians are monkeys – evolution hasn’t caught up with us yet). I am incredibly lucky to have won a lottery ticket to be physically present at his Installation in Washington D.C.
I met the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, in 2005, as a first-year student at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. He spent a lot of time with the Episcopal Campus Ministry that serves Meredith College, NC State University, and Saint Augustine’s University, led by the awesome Chaplain Deborah Fox.
We were extremely blessed by his presence every time he visited the Cheshire House – a house converted to worship space in downtown Raleigh. We were lucky to also spend each Ash Wednesday at Saint Augustine’s Chapel with Bishop Curry officiating and preaching. I think I speak for most Episcopalians when I vouch his amazing ability to share the gospel; even the quietest Christians surprise themselves when they hear the ‘Amens’ escaping from their own lips. While my favorite sermons of Michael’s will remain those in the intimate settings of Saint Augustine’s Chapel and the Cheshire House, the most impactful message I retain was during the 195th Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina in 2011.
“Come, Let Us Go to Galilee” was an incredibly powerful initiative and sermon that Michael preached at this convention that left anyone who heard it passionate to go out to both create and become the human family in a changing, challenging, diverse world. We are called to go to Galilee – where the people are, and that means anywhere the people are, including on social media and in our garbage cans and waiting at the bus stop and in the cubicle next door. Going to Galilee does not mean building bigger churches, opening doors wider, or filling more pews, but rather going out into the world as disciples: living and being the Gospel and sharing the radical welcome of Jesus by what we do, not by what we say behind closed doors. The sermon Bishop Curry delivered (and believe me, he can deliver) changed how I viewed my role as a Christian in the world. How to be a disciple on the road to Galilee has only been nurtured after my move to Sacramento, when I discovered Trinity Cathedral and Dean Brian Baker’s sermons of love. The way I live the gospel now, thanks to Michael and Brian, is through radical welcome and love.
We Episcopalians are not known as an evangelical bunch. In fact, it is my understanding that we’ve done our best to shy away from the term because of its potentially negative associations with forced conversions, spoon-fed dogma, strict rules, and a harsh God. Bishop Curry is helping us redefine ourselves as evangelicals in the Godliest way possible, as a church that shares Jesus’ radical welcome of the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the lowest of the low, and everyone else, too, because radical welcome doesn’t discriminate. Of a church that welcomes all people – not a church that opens the doors and waits for people to show up, but one that goes out into the community and serves those who are hungry for something that’s missing. Hungry for love, acceptance, community, or food and shelter. A church that goes out to the dirty parts of the cities and ministers to the sick, the friendless, and the needy. A church that thinks less about who deserves the kingdom of heaven and more about how to make the world we live in look more like the kingdom of heaven for all people.
A church that lives a gospel of full inclusion by being clear that when we say all are welcome, we mean welcome in all senses of the word: all are part of the family and part of the communion of faith equally – no strings attached, no bullying, no underlying expectations that people must change to be loved wholly. A church that reaches across seas and across race and across culture and across lines of hate and preaches a message of, “We love you. You don’t have to be one of us for us to work together to make the world a better place.” Episcopalians believe you have a direct line to God, it is not our job to interfere with that by placing anyone in the way – we know you’re truly capable of communicating with God better than anyone else could on your behalf. It is, however, our job to help each other exist in an environment where God is always welcome – by which I mean Love is always welcome and is the only expectation. It is our job to create a community supporting spiritual growth and exploration. It is our job to truly create a human family.
Bishop Curry was chosen to be the 27th Presiding Bishop this summer at the 78th General Convention, our triennial political meeting of the Episcopal Church, in Salt Lake City, Utah. I didn’t make it to Salt Lake City in time to feel the electricity in the air while the House of Bishops voted to choose our next Presiding Bishop. I was, however, watching the livestream on the way to the airport. Just as we pulled into the terminal the news came that Michael Curry had been chosen. My mother and I hugged and cheered and cried and laughed in the car while her husband looked at us in the rear-view mirror like we were giddy fans at a Beatles concert. What a momentous decision and incredible feeling, the day after the Supreme Court brought marriage equality to the land of the free, to witness the landslide decision for Michael Curry to be the first African American to lead the Episcopal Church. My church!
Since I was volunteering the following morning at the General Convention Eucharist I was able to get a seat at the very front of the huge worship hall. Not only did I have a prime location to hear Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori give an amazing sermon (“Talitha, Cum – get up girl, you’re not dead yet”), but during communion as I was ushering people to the front I was able to get a hug and a selfie with Michael.
After recognizing me, he immediately
cracked a joyous smile and embraced me like a dad would. Then he verbally pinched my cheeks as he introduced me to his neighboring bishops, telling them how cute I was when he met me my first year in college. Michael then looked into my eyes and said, “Charis, you’ve never been happy with the world the way it is, have you?” After this blessing, I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him and was so proud of him, causing him to tear up. I love Michael’s humility and willingness to be bold, to be funny, and to be honest about being radical. This is what will lead our church for the next 9 years during a time that we need someone like Michael to shake things up and color outside the lines.
On November 1st I will gather with a diverse group of disciples to welcome a new [unofficially] evangelical model of the Episcopal Church (these are all my own words and opinions, so don’t throw this in an Associate Press article, please) by installing a new, charismatic, vibrant leader of the Episcopal Church.
We will give a loving farewell to the fantastic nine years of humbly assertive, passionate, far-reaching and well-managed leadership and service by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (the first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church). We will gather in support of Presiding Bishop-elect Curry’s message of radical inclusion, his passion of living Jesus’ message, and his demonstration of how to love our neighbors in a different way (and how to find and love new neighbors). We will cheer when he is installed, we will sing, we will hug each other, we will fill the blocks around us with love, and we will follow him to Galilee to share the good news.