ALEXANDRIA, Va. (RNS) — Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spent the evening of Ash Wednesday at a Baptist church, preaching a Lenten message focused on love and selflessness.
“When love breaks out, we all get set free,” he said to an applauding crowd gathered at Harvest Assembly Baptist Church.
The bishop, who preached on the importance of love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last year in a sermon watched by some 29 million people, continued that theme across the Potomac River from the nation's capital.
“Imagine the White House — help me, Jesus,” he preached, “imagine the White House, the United Nations, the nations of the world if love was the law of our hearts and our land.”
He noted that in the New Testament passage from 1 Corinthians, often cited in weddings, that speaks of “faith, hope and love," the Apostle Paul also warns that love “is not selfish.”
“The truth is the essence of sin is self-centeredness,” he said. “And when God is on the periphery, when everybody else is on the periphery, you have a selfish world, a selfish church, a selfish country and you have a world, a church, a country on the verge of self-destruction.
“Selfishness is a cancer that will destroy from within better than anything can destroy from without,” he added.
“Yeah,” responded one audience member. “My Lord,” said another.
The predominantly black, ecumenical revival, which included a sprinkling of white and black Episcopalians, was accompanied by lively organ music and a congregational call-and-response that would be atypical at an Episcopal cathedral service.
In an interview with Religion News Service before he gave his message, Curry said he attended an early service for Ash Wednesday — the beginning of Lent's six-week period of penitence leading to Easter Sunday — at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.
But he thought it was appropriate to cross denominational lines at the end of the day.
“Part of the reason the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is in a Baptist church on Ash Wednesday is we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters and we who are clergy must model that,” he said.
Curry was invited to preach at the revival by Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, former president of the historically black Progressive National Baptist Convention. Baltimore, who leads the C.A.B. Outreach International Ministries, was holding the service as a fundraiser for missions projects involving evangelism, medical care and education across the globe.
Baltimore introduced Curry as a “touchable” denominational leader who is not standoffish.
“He’s cut from the cloth that Jesus is cut from — common, everyday person with the personality that reaches the very core of humanity,” said Baltimore, now also a bishop with the Bahamas-based Global United Fellowship.
Curry and Baltimore are co-signers of the 2018 “Reclaiming Jesus” document that declared “Our identity in Christ precedes every other identity” and rejected “America first” as a “theological heresy for followers of Christ.” They also signed a similarly named document that called this year for Lenten fasting and “prayers that our political leaders will make decisions not for their self-interest but for what is right for our nation and those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these.’”
Asked how he can work on bridge-building while his criticism of the Trump administration's family separations at the border and turning away of refugees put him in the liberal camp, Curry said he’d like to sit down with those with more conservative perspectives.
“I want to hear Republican solutions as well as Democratic solutions,” he said. “Because sometimes when you get the best of both worlds, you get a new world.”
As Curry works to cross political and denominational divides, his message on love was appreciated by an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church member who said she “had to come” to hear him in person after his celebrated wedding sermon last year.
“I didn’t get to the royal wedding,” said Nancy Hayes-Milton of Alexandria, who attends an AMEZ church nearby. “But this was great, really great.”