[Episcopal News Service – San Diego, California] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered a soul-stirring, handclapping, belly-laughing “love always” revival message Dec. 10, to hundreds of cheering Episcopalians and friends gathered at the Town and Country Resort for the Diocese of San Diego’s Good News Festival.
“Love when you feel like it, and love when you don’t,” Curry said. “Love when you believe it, and love when you don’t. Love on the mountaintop, and love in the valley. But love always.
“Love yourself always. Love your neighbor always. Love your God always. Love always, because love made you and love will set you free,” he said in English, accompanied by a Spanish interpreter, at the evening worship service, which concluded the Dec. 9-10 festival.
Curry began leading Episcopal revivals in 2017, but the Good News Festival was the first in-person revival in the churchwide series since the pandemic put a halt in March 2020 to such large gatherings. The events are promoted as part of the church’s “loving, liberating and life-giving” approach to being “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”
In his San Diego sermon, Curry invoked the spirit of Christmas: “Allow me to say something about who we are, and about why the shepherds left their flocks, why wise men came from afar, why they followed a star, why the angel choirs started to sing. I got a funny feeling Jesus came to show us the way to live … and that’s why we sing ‘Joy to the World, the Lord has come.’”
Christmas happens because “God through Jesus came to show us how to live as God dreamed and intended for us, to show us how to live with each other, and how to live with God,” he said. “He came to show us how to become God’s family, how to help each other and not hurt each other, how to heal this world and not to harm it. He came to show us how to do justice, how to love mercy and how to walk humbly with God. He came to show us how to live in the love that made us in the first place.”
Curry’s sermon drew applause, cheers and laughter as he cited three sources of his “love always” message: St. Paul, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
“The love of Christ urges us on,” Curry said, quoting 2 Corinthians 5. “Dr. King said we must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.” And, from Jimi Hendrix, “when the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.”
The presiding bishop frequently brought the crowd to its feet, including Elliot Nester, 23, who identified as Roman Catholic but said curiosity drew him to experience the revival and Curry’s message of love. “It’s fantastic,” he said, clapping vigorously. “I’ve learned a lot here tonight.”
Similarly, Ashante Smalls said the drive south to San Diego from Ontario, California, was well worth the 226-mile round trip. “I wanted to see the presiding bishop. I just had to take advantage of the opportunity to see him and to hear him.”
The Rev. William Barber II, a nationally known Disciples of Christ pastor and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, to which the Episcopal Church is a partner, had been a featured preacher at the event but was forced to cancel his appearance because of illness. San Diego Bishop Susan Brown Snook announced that Barber had tested positive for COVID-19, and she offered prayers for Barber’s speedy recovery.
Snook also welcomed ecumenical, civic and community partners, including Bishop Silvestre Romero of the Anglican Diocese of Guatemala, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano and Bishop Dave Nagler of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Pacifica Synod.
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego counts about 20,000 Episcopalians as members in 44 churches across San Diego, Imperial, southern Riverside counties in Southern California, and Yuma County in Arizona.
Worshippers, waving streamers and dancing, sang along from lyrics displayed on giant screens. During and after the service, stations were available for those who sought prayer.
Music was provided by members of local church choirs, and Snook introduced the Voices of Our City, a choir “of unsheltered or formerly unsheltered people who offer their gifts of songs and music.” The Voices of Our City Choir competed in Season 15 of America’s Got Talent, receiving a golden buzzer from Terry Crews and advancing to the semifinals before being eliminated.
The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care, called upon the crowd to keep praying. “It matters that we ask God to make us more than we have ever been, for a moment like this,” Spellers said. “It matters that we ask God to make us a new people, a new church, a new vision.”
Additional revivals are planned in 2023 in the dioceses of Massachusetts, Southern Virginia, Missouri, East Carolina and Central New York, as well as a revival-inspired event to be held in March at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris by the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Curry’s staff also is finalizing the details of churchwide revival in July 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland, under the banner “It’s All About Love: A Festival for the Jesus Movement.”
“We’ve been in parks, theaters, churches, in convention centers,” Spellers said. “Thank you. Because somebody’s going to say Episcopalians don’t do this. Beg pardon, these Episcopalians do. Amen. We might have been ‘frozen chosen’ before, but not anymore. We might have been the church of the elite once upon a time, but not anymore.”
The day’s events included workshops about acknowledging original Indigenous occupants of the lands on which churches sit; creating affordable housing partnerships; faith-based advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights; food security; border and migration ministries; 21st century evangelism, and creation crisis and care, as well as starting new faith communities in San Diego.
A variety of local musicians entertained vendors, shoppers, guests and visitors, at a holiday marketplace, including a jazz acappella quartet; mariachi bands; the Lucky Lion Dancers and the Matrida Umoja Band, a group of Congolese refugees now living in San Diego.
Curry preached for about 45 minutes. At one point he invited the crowd to join him in a call-and-response, proclaiming “God is love.” Loving like Jesus means making the decision to seek the good in everyone and in every situation, he said. “If we would love our neighbors as ourselves, we would have a different world.”
That includes politically, he said. “It means Democrats, you got to love Republicans. And Republicans, you got to love some Democrats. And independents, y’all can go whichever way you want.”
Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself, Curry said: “You were made by the hand of the God who the Bible says is love. God shaped you and molded you and made you and gave you the breath of life by the power of love. So, love God, love your neighbor and love yourself and, when you do, you will find power for living … because you will be living by the energies of God.”
Afterward, Jeff Rockey, 43, a lay preacher at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in San Diego’s University City neighborhood, said he felt energy that inspired him beyond the revival.
“There’s so much to take in, to use in my own ministry,” he said. “I feel fed, wonderfully fed. I wish it wasn’t over.”
Video of the San Diego revival, which lasted about two hours, may be viewed on You Tube.
Curry also preached the following day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego.
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for ENS, based in Los Angeles.