Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon will go down in history | Diana Evans

The American bishop did it black. And he shocked the congregation by refusing to tone down his passionate message on power and love, says novelist Diana Evans

The candle flames were trembling. The pulpit was on fire. The bride and groom were waiting. As were the Queen, Oprah, Idris Elba, and Doria Ragland , now the world’s most famous yoga teacher. Only before he got on to the subject of fire, Bishop Michael Curry, the first African-American leader of the US Episcopal church, promised the happy couple,” and with this I’ll sit down, we got to get y’all married “. But there’s a lot to say about the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his relevance to modern technology and the concept of love and how this relates to Martin Luther King, so he went on for another three minutes.

Curry’s sermon was one of three moments during the royal wedding when I felt moved. I had not expected to be moved. I had expected to remain full of cold outrage at the pomp and aristocratic indulgence of the day, at the preparatory shooing of the homeless off the street of Windsor by police officers who should be tending to more important things like knife crime, at the PS32m shamelessly expended amid the rising presence of foodbanks and child poverty. The first of these moments was Ragland arriving at the chapel, a black female quietly alone, being assisted from her automobile by a representative of an institution that had partaken in her oppression and was now required to respect her. The other was the Kingdom Choir’s beautiful rendition of Stand By Me, in part because it followed the sermon.

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The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Bishop Michael Curry at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Photograph: WPA Pool/ Getty Images

Reading from his iPad, gesticulating, swaying his robes, smiling, rocking backward and forward on his feet, Curry was in complete contrast to the solemn and stationary ecclesiastical address that preceded his. Where there was stillness , now there was motion. For 14 minutes he preached in the full-throated, uninhibited, theatrical and emotive style of the traditional African-American church. He preached of Moses and Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew scriptures and the” old slaves in America’s antebellum South” who recognised in their singing of spirituals,” even in the midst of their captivity”, that there is” a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole “. Quoting from Martin Luther King to begin and objective the speech, this was not something ever witnessed within the lofty walls of the spire of the Anglican establishment at a royal bridal. This was a speech that could have been lifted straight out of the pages of James Baldwin or ZZ Packer.

An ardent campaigner for social justice, particularly on immigration and same-sex marriage, Chicago-born Curry, himself a descendent of slaves, did not tone down his passionate message of the social and political power of love in order to align with the reserve of his pale and stately spectators. He did not filter. He did it black, with music in his arms, and rhythm in his voice, and a looseness and openness in his face that supposed an almost familial acquaintance with his audience.

In his world, words do not travelling alone from the mouth, with merely their letters and their grammar for company. Here the body comes too, giving life to the words, lifting them into the air to float and dance into comprehension and human feeling. For Zara Tindall, captured open-mouthed in her pricey, shiny teal in the pews, it was something to behold.

The expressions on the faces of the congregation around the church were also something to behold, ranging from empathy to bemusement to confusion to downright scorn. Four minutes in, Camilla Parker Bowles’s ludicrous hat was trembling as she held down her head: was she laughing? Prince Charles was also bowed, red around the ears, more so than usual: was he?

There was half a smirk at the Duchess of Cambridge’s mouth, and, when Curry exclaimed:” Oh that’s the balm in Gilead !”, throwing up his hands in emphasis, the Queen straightened in her chair, purse-lipped. Meanwhile, Oprah swayed. Ragland looked steadily on, a little sadly, as if aware of something of which others were not, yet also with an innate sweetness; while her daughter sit holding hands with her prince, occasionally conferring in love-soaked whispers.

It was a sermon that will go down in history as a moment when the enduring seat of colonialism was brought before the Lord, and questioned in its own house. In the mention of bondage was the inherent accusation of white silver-spoon complicity, and that this union should not go forth without acknowledging it.

” Love is the way ,” Curry chanted, in a rolled, conversational repeating bear of the deep south.” When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well”- he set his hand on his hip and his elbow on the lectern-” like we are actually a family .” A utopia for our time indeed, delivered with a grand humility apparently wasted on some of its listeners, who were not quite expecting such blackness from a black bride.

* Diana Evans’ latest fiction is Ordinary People

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