Episcopal Church leader appears at breakfast gathering with youth in Homewood
February 4, 2017 11:09 PM
Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette
The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, visits with the youth at a breakfast during a celebration of the "Feast Day of Absalom Jones," at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood Saturday.
Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette
The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, visits with acolytes from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon during a breakfast with youth during a celebration of the "Feast Day of Absalom Jones" on Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood.
By Peter Smith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Early on in his whirlwind day of worship and meetings in Pittsburgh, the national leader of the Episcopal Church answered a question that would frame all of his talks for the rest of the day.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, on the second of a three-day visit to the city, joined a packed fellowship hall for a breakfast gathering with youth Saturday morning at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood.
As the youth gathered over juice, fruit and muffins, Bishop Curry led them in a call-and-response to the phrase, “We are the Jesus movement.”
One of the adults lining the back walls of the fellowship hall asked him to elaborate: “Why Jesus?”
“Maybe it’s just getting older,” the bishop replied, “but I’m more and more convinced that he’s right” in calling for “the way of love, the way of forgiveness, the way of compassion, the way of justice.”
He said this way was the heart of the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose aim was “not to win a victory. The goal was to change hearts.”
Bishop Curry was elected in 2015 to be the first African-American leader of the national Episcopal Church, and his visit to the historically black Holy Cross church was resonant with symbolism. He presided at a communion service marking another racial landmark — the annual commemoration of the ordination of Absalom Jones, the first African-American Episcopal priest, in the early 19th century.
The youths, who came from churches throughout the diocese’s Southwestern Pennsylvania region, also presented Bishop Curry with an altar cloth that they had earlier painted — with their feet. They and others posed for selfies with the bishop before the service. There, the altar cloth, with its ad hoc footprints, contrasted with the symmetrical patterns in the Gothic sanctuary’s woodwork and tapestries.
The service, complete with formal robes, candles, and a long procession of clergy and choir members, all features of Episcopal worship. It also was filled with more upbeat gospel spirituals such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “We’ll Understand it Better By and By.”
In the afternoon, Bishop Curry took part in a discussion with Mayor Bill Peduto and other community leaders at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary on ways to heal racial and other divides.
These are topics the denomination, which has staked out liberal positions both within the church and in its public-policy stances, have dealt with for a long time.
Pittsburgh was an epicenter in a recent schism in the denomination, with many congregations leaving to help form a new, more conservative Anglican Church in North America. That came after the Episcopal Church, among other things, began ordaining openly gay bishops and moving toward the blessing of same-sex unions.
That has led the Episcopal Church’s global partners in the Anglican Communion to require that it not represent the communion in certain areas.
In both cases, Bishop Curry said at a news conference, dialogue is crucial.
“We’re certainly in a time and a period where we’re going to all learn how to walk and find our way,” he said. But, he added: “I’ll sit down and talk with anybody, and I’m going to love everybody, even somebody who disagrees with me, because they’re my brother and my sister.”
That applies politically as well. Although he didn’t address in detail the dramatic policy changes of the new Trump administration, he drew from his previous experience as a bishop in North Carolina, where he lamented a series of policies enacted by a Republican legislature in “things that hurt people” in areas such as health care and voting rights.
Knowing that many of his pastors are preaching to congregations that are divided politically, he advised them to identify and articulate what are the core values reflected in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
“That establishes a common ground before you get to any issue,” he said. For example, does this or that policy issue “look like love of neighbor?”
Bishop Curry is scheduled to wrap up his visit here today preaching at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh and St. Stephen Church in McKeesport.
Preaching with a booming voice, beaming smile and energetic style — one of the youths said he reminded them of Santa Claus — Bishop Curry seemed more of a revivalist than a staid Episcopal preacher. And the revival part was on purpose.
He touted what he called “this revival weekend in the Episcopal Church. That’s a sentence you don’t hear very often.”
But his goal, long after he leaves town, was to kindle a revival that results in both personal renewal and social justice.
“In light of the deluded and desperate signs that we see, nothing is more needed in the United States than revival, in the church and out.”
He said there is “much that seeks to articulate itself as Christianity” today, but if “it doesn’t walk and talk and smell like Jesus, it’s not Christian.”
He blended Jesus’ statement that all commandments come down to love with that of jazz great Duke Ellington: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
Darlene Malone, a member of Holy Cross for more than 60 years, called Bishop Curry’s talk “electrifying. He’s so genuine.”
Greg Sprenkel, one of several teens from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkinsburg, said he liked how the bishop said that Jesus “was right 2000 years ago, and he’s right now.”
Peter Smith: email@example.com, 412-263-1416, or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.
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