Friday, November 6, 2015

The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

The Most Rev. Michael Curry installed.
This past Saturday and Sunday were amazingly remarkable days in the life of The Episcopal Church. It was my good fortune to be able to attend both the Vigil at the DC Armory on Saturday and the Installation of The Most Rev. Michael Curry at the National Cathedral on Sunday, the Feast of All Saints. The presence of the Holy Spirit was evident!

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE).  They turned the DC Armory into church for the day, creating wonderful worship space from a building which the preacher, The Rev. Sandye Wilson, noted had been used for a horse show just a few weeks ago!  As she shared, if you smell something, it’s legitimate!

The liturgy was on the “high” side of the spectrum with no less than three thurifers swinging the smoke in the processions in and out. Joyful music and laughter were a big part of the service, clearly a celebration in every sense of the word. I sat next to former Integrity USA Treasurer Lis Jacobs. She was delightful company. Bishop Michael and I hugged and spoke briefly.

Sunday began with some rainy weather but that would prove not to dampen anyone’s spirits. I arrived at the National Cathedral early enough to be fourth in line! I was fortunate enough to be in a seat about twenty rows back from the altar and next to a large screen monitor. Between my location and the monitor, I missed very little of a powerful and joyful service.

The procession was in multiple parts/sections involving Native Americans drumming in a rhythmic and almost hypnotic cadence. Bishops of our church were seated in the first chair of each row along the center aisle. A double row of bishops occupied the fore and aft rows of the crossing where the Gospel was read. An aerial view provided the reason for this unusual seating pattern:  The red of the bishops’ vestments formed a gigantic and dramatic red cross!

Then came the knock on the great center doors of the west entrance by still Presiding Bishop-elect Curry. He was welcomed with thunderous responses from the congregation of some 2,500. We renewed our Baptismal Covenant and were asperged by Bishop Michael and The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who clearly enjoyed themselves in the process.

The Primatial Staff was then given to Bishop Michael by Bishop Katharine and he became the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. He was then seated in the stall of the Great Choir designated for the Presiding Bishop.

The Liturgy of the Word continued with prayers for the Presiding Bishop offered by representatives of four faith communities, followed by the Gloria and the appropriate collects and readings for the Feast of All Saints. Bishop Michael’s sermon was next.

It was clear for ears that would listen that our new Presiding Bishop’s vision for The Episcopal Church is one that includes welcome for ALL at the table.  He intends to exclude no one. He specifically mentioned sexual orientation in his sermon. I’m not sure I had ever actually heard those words at such an occasion before. Code words perhaps, but not the exact words; references perhaps, but not such specific words.

I found myself thinking back to another Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Edmund Browning. He proclaimed that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church. That was his intent and his vision and he paid a price for such forward thinking in the early 90’s. Yet he stayed the course as much as anyone could in such stormy seas. I will always be grateful for his extraordinary leadership.

From my perspective, Bishop Michael will indeed move us forward to the realization of the goals that there will be no outcasts in our church and that all will be welcome in it. The task is not his alone, however. Each of us must do our part in bringing into being the beloved kingdom where all are equal in God’s eyes.

The presence of the Holy Spirit was most evident to me at two times in the service.  The Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the offertory.  On the last chorus, as the oblations and offering came down the aisle, the congregation stood and joined in the singing.  It was an emotional moment.  Then when Bishop Michael said: “Let us join hands and sing the prayer our Savior taught us” it was remarkable to watch everyone take a hand and even more moving to see the bishops seated on the aisle to step out into the aisle to take the hand across from them.  Then at the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer, all hands were raised together.  I choked up and could not sing.

The service continued with the Eucharist, something ordinary for us but extraordinary in this time and place. I have rarely heard a congregation be so forceful in responding in the liturgy and in singing.

The closing hymn was “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and earth and heaven did truly ring! I was blessed to have been present.  It was an experience of a lifetime. Yes, indeed, the presence of the Holy Spirit was evident, almost palpable.  And yes, God is good... all the time!

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA