[Diocese of Maryland] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry returned to his old stomping grounds in the Diocese of Maryland, bringing an inspiring message and encouraging Episcopalians to claim their role as members of the Jesus Movement.
“’Heaven help the devil if the Episcopal Church ever wakes up,’” he said, quoting the famed 20th-century evangelist, Billy Sunday. “Wake up, Episcopal Church. That’s what the Jesus Movement is all about.”
Curry, who served as rector of St. James in Baltimore for 12 years, has been calling for a new period of evangelism within the church since being elected in 2015. This effort also includes a desire for the Episcopal Church to address some of the systemic race and class issues that plague American society.
“We need to find a way for the grace of God to bear on the deeply rooted system of sin that mires us in a quagmire of racism,” he said. Racial reconciliation, evangelism and the care of God’s creation are the roots of the Jesus Movement for the presiding bishop.
This week Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, will launch a churchwide program aimed at encouraging racial reconciliation. It is called, “Becoming Beloved Community: The Episcopal Church’s Long-term Commitment to Racial Healing, Reconciliation and Justice.” An introductory webinar is set for May 16.
The program is the result of a year’s worth of listening sessions, consulting and reflection. It began with the passage of Resolution C019 at the 2015 General Convention, which called for the House of Bishops and House of Deputies to create a vision for addressing racial injustice. The convention also budgeted $2 million to make the plan a reality.
Success in the drive for reconciliation will depend in large part on building relationships, said Curry.
“Deep down in the bowels of our racial dilemma is the truth that we really don’t know each other,” he said. “Racism has a field day with that because that’s where we get into stereotypes, and one of the ways you get out of that is to get people to engage in real relationships.”
During his Maryland visit, Curry gave a brief morning talk at the 233rd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, squeezed in a couple of interviews, and preached to a nearly filled auditorium on the campus of Goucher College in Towson.
The evening event, known as “The Big Tent Meeting,” gave him a chance to have a little fun with the perceived reluctance of Episcopalians to engage in evangelism. He built his sermon around Acts 1:8 and brought in other biblical citations such as Isaiah 43:10-12. Then he brought the message closer to home, quoting from the baptismal liturgy and the catechism in The Book of Common Prayer.
“The truth I really do believe is that we need witnesses, and not just witnesses in the abstract,” he said. “We need evangelists to witness to a way of being Christian that reflects the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Curry used his love of baseball to find a surprising illustration of the sometimes subtle, yet powerful ways witnessing to the gospel has influenced public life. Apparently, Branch Rickey, the famed executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers, used the Beatitudes and other teachings of Jesus Christ to help Jackie Robinson find ways to withstand the insults that would come when Robinson integrated the major leagues on April 15, 1947.
“They changed major league baseball following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth,” Curry said. “Be not afraid and be not ashamed to be Christians who are known by love, justice and forgiveness.”
During an earlier interview, Curry noted that part of his passion for proclaiming the Jesus Movement was born out of his own reflections and a desire to help people develop a richer spiritual life. Bible study is key to making that happen, he said, adding that in the current world of social media, the study need not be done face to face. But the study must happen.
“It’s kind of like the Emmaus Road,” he said. “Have a conversation and Jesus will show up.”
Curry also said that as the Church claims its role as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, it also will find an ongoing role in the public square.
“We are not entering the political realm as partisans, but to lift up the values we have as Christians,” he said. “Jesus died in the real world because he dared to take the values of the Kingdom of God and live them.”
-The Rev. M. Dion Thompson, a priest in the Diocese of Maryland, is a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun newspaper.