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How Bishop Michael Curry's 'Fire Speech' Became A Talking Point of the Royal Wedding

Curry’s address had a tone and tenor the likes of which have never been heard in the hallowed halls of St George’s Chapel in its 1000-plus year history, and by George, did his words echo.

Shantanu David |

Updated:May 20, 2018, 11:32 AM IST
How Bishop Michael Curry's 'Fire Speech' Became A Talking Point of the Royal Wedding
The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Owen Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the very surprising wedding sermon by the very reverend Michael Curry was that he didn’t end it with “Can I get a Hallelujah?” As the first black presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church - like the Church of England, part of the Anglican Communion – Curry’s address had a tone and tenor the likes of which have never been heard in the hallowed halls of St George’s Chapel in its 1000-plus year history, and by George, did his words echo.

In an impassioned and extended (some will say drawn out) speech, the priest from Chicago delivered a homily on the power of love and the force of fire. Indeed, commentators have already taken to calling Curry’s sermon as the ‘fire speech’ due to his many, many, many allusions to the might and right of that elemental force.

Speaking on how fire has shaped the life and destiny of mankind, from its Promethean origins of enabling man to move from the stone age to the bronze, to continuing to fuel progress and innovation over the millennia, right up to our digital present, Curry went out in a blaze of glory.

Choosing Curry, the first presiding black bishop of the Episcopal Church to deliver the sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the first woman of biracial ancestry to marry in to the starched white British Royal family, was a shrewd move, and the Bishop made the most of it. While the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address was brief and chaste, as is expected in these highly ceremonial and precisely timed Royal rituals, Curry (to borrow from his theme) stoked the flames, pointedly referring to the Antebellum South and the place of slavery in American history, while softening his edge by mentioning the healing power of spirituality and the music sung by those enslaved people of colour. Slaves like the ancestors of Doria Ragland, the African-American mother of Meghan Markle, whose surname is taken from a slave owner. Through his remarks on race relations, Curry reminded the cream of British aristocracy and royalty, that their new princess was also a fiercely proud black woman, and all the more powerful for it.

And he spoke about love. "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way," he said, quoting civil rights icon Dr Martin Luther King. The 65-year-old from Chicago continued, "There's power in love. Don't underestimate it. Don't even over-sentimentalise. There is power, power in love. I'm talking about some power. Real power. Power to change the world.” Perhaps sensing the sombre effect of his words on his audience, Curry added with a twinkle in his eye that, “Two young people fell in love and we all showed up." The tension broke as the wedding guests broke out in laughter.

Curry, who was ordained as a priest in 1978, has frequently preached from his different pulpits on issues including social justice, immigration policy and marriage equality. Most recently, he campaigned for the creation of family day care providers, educational centres and investment in the inner-city neighbourhoods of his three parish ministries - North Carolina, Ohio, and Maryland.

Curry has also defended the Episcopal Church's move to allow same sex couples to marry in church in 2015, which caused some churches to cut ties with their parent body. The US Episcopal Church is one of only two Anglican churches worldwide that allow gay marriage in church - the other being the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Still, that’s not to say his rhetoric didn’t cause some restlessness among some members of his audience, both within the church and without, who are used to cut and dried devotions to God. Outside the wedding chapel, some of the gathered royal fans reacted with bemusement while watching live images of uncomfortable-looking VIPs as the sermon went on. While many of his remarks, peppered with historical references, had many listeners, like David Beckham and Camilla Parker Bowles, smiling and nodding, the fact that his speech was stretching on was not lost on the pastor.

Pulling himself up short, Curry gestured at Harry and Meghan, seated near him in rapt attention, and said it was time to wrap up as, "We gotta get you all married!" And so that’s what they did.

You can watch the full speech here.

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