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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector's Note: Following the Way of Love into the next nine years-6.27.24

At our General Convention this week our Episcopal Church leaders and delegates – bishops, priests and lay – chose the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, as our next presiding bishop.  The vote was prayerful, and also revealed an overwhelming sense of approval for his skills and his leadership. The presiding bishop’s term is nine years, and it comes at a time when the stakes are particularly high for us as church. In a country that is growing ever more viscous in its discourse and exclusionary in its law and practice, now more than ever, the church must be prophetic, outspoke, visible and compelling. It must be haven and refuge, as well as truth teller and prophet. Our new presiding bishop will have his work cut out for him – as will we all.

                But he follows in the footsteps of one who has shepherded us as a church through an equally difficult, compelling time. The Most Rev. Michael Curry has been presiding bishop for most of my tenure as an Episcopalian, and for practically all of the years I have worked in Episcopal ministry in Philadelphia – both as a lay person and as clergy. He has shaped much of my understanding and excitement about serving in this church and being a part of the wider Anglican communion.  His message has been consistent, compelling and always inspiring: it’s all about love.

                He has said this over and over again. I have heard him preach it at conferences and I have read it in his book Love is the Way.  Go to the website of the Episcopal Church and you will find his agenda of The Way of Love all over the place – in programs, in prayers, in statements and sermons.

In the hands of a lesser preacher or a less-committed Christian “love one another” might seem like a pretty simplistic message. But Bishop Curry insisted that it was our way through some of our most thorny issues. I can think of three instances in his preaching and speaking about love that particularly touched me deeply.

                After the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage in 2015, Curry had to respond to the threat of sanctions issued by bishops in our sister Anglican churches. He had been presiding bishop for two months when a majority of Anglican primates voted in January of 2016 to impose sanctions on the Episcopal Church for three years in punishment for its stand on same-sex marriage. The sanctions were never formally enacted. At the time of the vote, Curry’s response was indicative of the “way of love” that he would pave for us over and over again for the next nine years. 

“This has been a disappointing time for many, and there will be heartache and pain for many, but it’s important to remember that we are still part of the Anglican Communion,” he said in a statement  at the time. ”We are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on. And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people. And maybe it’s a part of our vocation to help that to happen.”

This is an incredibly powerful message to take with us into our next phase of life as the Episcopal Church: it may be part of our vocation to help others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us. I hope that our new presiding bishop will continue to call us to this task.

                Two years later, Bishop Curry was again in the global spotlight preaching about love, this time at the wedding of Britain’s Prince Henry and American actress Meghan Markle. And on that international stage when some of the world’s most powerful people were sitting stiffly in their pews, and some of the world’s most lowly people were tuning in, our presiding bishop told them about the love of Jesus.

“Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history,” Curry preached. “A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world - and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I'm talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world…”

I was so proud of him and our church and the love that we believe in. Did it transform Britain’s royal family? Hardly. But Bishops Curry knew what he was doing when he released that Word, which has been doing its work ever since. Let those who have ears to hear listen.

                In the past nine years, I’ve heard Bishop Curry speak in person on a few occasions. None was more moving to me than at the funeral of Bishop Frank Griswold, who had been a particular mentor for me when I worked at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and was preparing for priesthood. Here again, Bishop Curry reminded us about the power of love: “To love each other like God loves us is a world changer,” he said. “To love each other, to care about each other through thick and thin, on mountaintop and in valley, that’s a game changer. To create societies in a world where every child of God is loved as a child of God made in the image of the Most High God, Oh that’s a world changer!”

                Oh, Bishop Curry had much to say about Frank Griswold’s own courageous commitments and achievements. But love, that would always been the main message. And Frank would have approved.

                The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe’s term as presiding bishop will formally begin Nov. 1 of this year. As we transition from nine years so marked and branded by the Way of Love, I am confident that the call to love will continue. They were after all Jesus’ words long before they were Michael Curry’s. My great hope is that we will continue to make it the way of our whole church – courageous, transformative, outspoken, and prophetic – our main vocation, a world changer.

Please note that my Rector’s Note will take a break for the next two weeks while I take time off for vacation and a personal retreat. Please pray for me during this time away, that I may return refreshed and ready to follow the way of love into another program year. 

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1 Comment

sam hogg
sam hogg
Jun 27

Thank you for the words Barb, that gives me a direction to go

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