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That sermon

25 May 2018

AS Diana Evans wrote in The Guardian, “He did it black.” The elements of Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding might not look promising on the page. Any preacher who has been tempted to bring Pierre Teilhard de Chardin into his or her sermon will know that this is the moment when congregation members start looking at their phones or at the tea urn in the corner of the church. But, of course, it was not the content of the Presiding Bishop’s sermon which caused such an immediate sensation. It was the delivery, a full-throttle African-American treatment, unusual in St George’s, Windsor, certainly, and unprecedented at a royal wedding — though not unknown to members of the royal family, whose travels have introduced them to most manifestations of Christianity.

For Bishop Curry’s usual congregations in the United States, meanwhile, it was remarkable only for the absence of affirmative “Amens” from the congregation, and for its brevity (despite the overrun, one of his followers described it as “succinct”). Another commentator described the sermon as “notably American and notably black”. The Church of England, after a faltering start, has embraced black and ethnic-minority people — there was no need to look overseas for a black archbishop; but arguably it still has work to do to embrace elements of black culture.

A key technique of the style of preaching developed in Pentecostal meetings is to use repetition and familiar scriptural verses to work up a sense of agreement from the congregation, whether or not this is expressed through “Amens”. (Kilvert witnessed Fr Stanton doing something similar.) It was here that the delivery and content of Bishop Curry’s sermon were woven together. A powerful and influential congregation — not to mention the 48 million who are estimated to have watched the live coverage in the UK and the US alone — was assumed to collude with a world vision that put God’s love at the heart of everything. True, they were at liberty to change their minds afterwards; but Bishop Curry’s address was so winsome that few would have wanted to do so. Who, after all, could cavill at a world in which no child will go to bed hungry ever again? Anyone wondering vaguely what this had to do with a wedding need only to reflect that this couple, and members of that congregation, have a greater ability than most to effect such changes — and have expressed a desire to do so.

Those songs

THE Church’s hymnody was enlarged this week. First, the Gospel choir in Windsor sang “Stand By Me”, the R&B classic by Ben E. King. Second, the service in Manchester Cathedral to commemorate those killed in the bombing of the Arena one year ago was enriched by a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. The lyrics of popular songs may not stand up to the scrutiny of hymnal editors. None the less, expressions of solidarity and yearning can be found beyond the Church’s canon. With the right treatment, as this week, they can have a place in worship.

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