[Episcopal News Service — College Park, Maryland] As soon as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s face appeared onscreen, the room erupted in cheers. Hundreds of attendees at the Episcopal Youth Event, or EYE, had eagerly awaited his arrival for worship on July 6 and celebrated as he took the stage to preach.
“I don’t have the mobility that I used to have,” said Curry, 70, who was admitted to the hospital in May and continues to receive treatment for heart conditions. His appearance at EYE is one of just two in-person events on his schedule this month, in addition to a July 9 appearance at It’s All About Love in Baltimore. His normal liveliness, though, appeared little diminished as he took center stage at EYE, and the crowd of young people responded with frequent applause.
“It was a really cool experience because I’ve never been to any sort of big kind of church or big worship before,” said Nico Pastore, a 16-year-old from the Diocese of Hawaii whose home church numbers around 40 people and often worships in Hawaiian as well as English.
Some youth at EYE said they have met Curry before at events across the country, and some have only seen him on social media. Even before his in-person appearance, cardboard cutouts of Curry also have been a notable presence at EYE . Some attendees told Episcopal News Service their parents are jealous that they get to see him preach.
Curry’s sermon invoked the biblical story of Esther, picking up where Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson, the opening keynote speaker, left off the day before. The presiding bishop emphasized the courage and serendipitous timing that characterizes the story of the Jewish woman who risks her life to save her people from annihilation.
“We need some Esthers today,” Curry repeated. He drew connections between the plight of Esther’s community and injustice today, which requires young people to stand up and act.
“We know some folks are put down,” Curry said. “We know some folks are mistreated. We know that nations invade other nations, but who knows? Perhaps you were born and made for such a time as this.”
One comment about Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, earned even more applause and cheers.
“Esther eventually became high up and became queen,” Curry said. “Mordecai told her one thing: ‘Don’t let anybody know you’re a Jew. Don’t let anybody know.’ He wanted her in the closet. And ain’t nobody supposed to be in the closet.”
For 17-year-old Julian Kofoot from the Diocese of Iowa, it was impressive that such a public, religious figure could make bold statements referring to LGBTQ+ acceptance.
“As a bisexual who’s been scared to come out my whole entire life to literally anybody, that really inspired me,” Kofoot said. “I should be my true, authentic self.”
To demonstrate the importance of loving yourself, Curry told the story of his old cat Muffin, which he adopted when he was a young priest in Cincinnati.
The rectory where Curry’s family lived at the time was infested with mice, so they adopted Muffin from a house where another dog and cat would terrorize Muffin, leaving her scared and missing patches of fur. Only after Muffin settled in the Curry household, where they showed her love, did she come out of her shell and kill the mice.
Mars Chappel, 15, and her friends Caitlin, Makenzie and Lilly from the Diocese of Maryland considered it a highlight of the sermon.
“He connected it in such a good way that was like, ‘this is a metaphor,’ and we were like, ‘oh my God, we thought it was just this one story,’” Chappel said.
The story also struck a chord for Jackson Burger of the Diocese of Northern California. In the past year, the 17-year-old has moved three different times, and he left his parents. He said the key to getting through is prioritizing his own well-being before he can help others.
“You need to make sure you’re doing OK in the mental health department before you can make sure other people are doing well in the mental health department,” Burger said. “And sometimes you need to call upon other people.”
James Ordona, an 18-year-old from Guam, also knows how important finding both self-acceptance and community support is.
“I never knew that this community, this church community of ours, was so openly wide,” said Ordona. He said that as a Filipino in Guam, he has experienced prejudice from others just based on what island he is from.
“Some Filipinos don’t accept me,” Ordona said. “They think I’m lesser than they are. So we had to move from different churches because they were somewhat scared or thinking we’re inferior. … So when we found [our current church] we found a place to be ourselves.”
This is the power of love, according to Curry, the power to proclaim who you are and to value the humanity of those around you. “When love rules, everybody will be treated as God’s somebody no matter who they are,” Curry said. “When love rules, we will find life abundant and for each.”
-Logan Crews is an Episcopal Church Ecojustice Fellow and serves on the student leadership team of the World Student Christian Federation-United States.