On Sunday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry became the first African American to head the Episcopal Church in its 226-year history. Immediately before moving into the church’s top spot, he served as the bishop of North Carolina for 15 years.
Curry was installed in a ceremony at Washington National Cathedral, where he gave a rousing sermon that focused on how the church can help communities rocked by disparities in race, wealth and education. “Racial reconciliation is just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realizes justice but really across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God,” Curry said.
He concluded with the story—per the Episcopal News Service’s transcript—of how his family came to the church in 1940’s segregated America, launching him on a 37-year leadership journey:
An African-American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. They were the only people of color there. The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become ordained as a Baptist preacher. But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine—out of the same cup.
The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.” …
Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup? …
The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Another person drank. Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. The person right before her drank. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee…. Then she drank. And be thankful. She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for. Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee…. And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.
The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church and that he had an evangelism. He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.”
That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.
Watch the full sermon below.