We’ve just finished watching the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and whilst in some ways it was business as usual with all the processions and pageantry, in others this was a pretty radical departure.
In terms of the service, despite the fact that vast majority of Church of England weddings are conducted using the Common Worship service, the Royals would invariably use the traditional Book of Common Prayer wedding service or the Alternative Services Series One update, with an understanding and explanation of marriage that is totally at odds with what most people these days think a marriage is about.
Compare the introduction that was used at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or the Book of Common Prayer introduction with the modern introduction that Harry and Meghan had today – traditional is primarily about children, and a “remedy for sin and to avoid fornication” in the BCP version, without any mention of love which is first in the introduction to the modern service.
As to why the Royals always go for traditional, you need look no further than Prince Charles who is patron of the Prayer Book Society which makes it all the more amazing that his younger son used the Common Worship service straight out of the book, even with the contemporary language Lord’s Prayer. The choice of hymns and anthems too was pretty much what many regular couples would pick, without any special commissions – a couple of well known hymns, anthems both of which are in the repertoire of our church choir in Finchampstead, indeed The Lord Bless You and Keep You is one that pretty well any church choir in the country will know.
Where it differed from what most couples would have, and was very different from your average Royal event was the choice of preacher. Back in 2001, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had the then Bishop of London, a great friend of Prince Charles. Harry and Meghan apparently asked the advice of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and he recommended Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry is regarded as one of the best preachers in the Anglican Church, but is also pretty controversial with the traditionalist elements of the Anglican church, and indeed with the current US Government. He preached what for him was a short sermon at the wedding – check out some of his other sermons on YouTube – but something quite unlike anything we’ve seen before.
If you want to see quite how different, this is the sermon the former Bishop of London preached for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – I had no recollection of what he actually said when I looked back:
This is the sermon Michael Curry preached today – complete with quotes from Martin Luther King, quotes from a slave song, talking about poverty, world peace, and the power of love, but delivered in a style no English Bishop would ever have attempted, let alone in a Royal Wedding.
There has not surprisingly been a lot of reaction. This from radio presenter James O’Brien:
That sermon was epic. Brave, honest, true. I wonder if he knows how many people in this country will be embarrassed by a reminder of what Christian values really are.
A certain vicar’s daughter, for example.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) May 19, 2018
This from Labour MP David Lammy:
What power what courage what preaching with a global audience in witness. “When love is the way.. poverty will become History” The redemptive power of Love. Well done Bishop Curry. #RoyalWeddding pic.twitter.com/9EzO53EoKs
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) May 19, 2018
TV Presenter Piers Morgan:
Wow. Still reeling from Rev Curry.
What a moment. What a guy!
He may have gone on a bit long but as my youngest son just rang to say: ‘Dad, imagine being a black American watching this wedding? It’s historic – and brilliant.’ He’s right. pic.twitter.com/JkPM8E4xeS
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) May 19, 2018
Actor David Schneider:
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) May 19, 2018
And Zara’s face was a picture…
Zara’s FACE pic.twitter.com/Sdl98gLf9D
— Mark Di Stefano ???????? (@MarkDiStef) May 19, 2018
Finally we have Archbishop Justin and Presiding Bishop Michael talking about the sermon outside St Albans Abbey tonight.
“It just blew the place open!” – Passionate preacher Bishop Michael Curry and Archbishop Justin Welby talk about THAT sermon, and about speaking to the newly weds after the #RoyalWedding pic.twitter.com/ieZtiwoCsJ
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 19, 2018
Ultimately Curry had an audience of billions, and probably the only chance he’ll get to speak to an audience that large. Unlike any other Royal Wedding before, he actually preached a sermon with a message rather than the usual fairly light fluffy wedding sermon we’d expect, and certainly I doubt we’ll get anything like it at the next Royal Wedding in the autumn.