Yesterday a lot of people were introduced to the Episcopal Church, the American* cousins of the Church of England, when our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry preached at the wedding of Prince Harry, now also titled the Duke of Sussex, to actress Meghan Markle, herself a descendant of King Edward III.
This break from tradition caused Episcopalians the U.S. to watch news of the wedding with more-than-typical interest, although--truth be told--anything with roots in antiquity that also involves funny hats is likely to get our attention. In our increasingly unchurched culture, the folderol of Anglican worship must have looked to many viewers like Downton Abbey Goes to Hogwart's. I joked yesterday that we should start a rumor that Episcopalians wear those hats to church every week, and then sit back and watch what happens.
I would like to believe that would have gotten a chuckle out of my friend Paul Lane, who--although raised a Roman Catholic like me--found a home many years ago in the Episcopal Church. Under normal circumstances, he would have had more than a passing interest in the goings-on in London this week. Well-versed in his own family's history in Europe going back generations, Paul spent a good deal of time in France and Spain, taking the sun and soaking up culture. Like many Episcopalians I've met from all backgrounds, he shared that common gene which manifested itself with an appreciation for arcane historical detail.
He also knew a thing or two about liturgy done with care, which is probably why he--despite living in Jersey City--made St. Luke in-the-Fields in the West Village his spiritual home. Worship at St. Luke's leaves very little to chance: from the choir to the incense-bearer, people go about their roles with what looks from the pews like easy precision, although I have been to enough post-Eucharist brunches at the bar formerly known as Dublin 6 to hear that making the service look that effortless was no mean feat indeed.
While Bishop Curry is very at home behind a pulpit or microphone, Paul's ministry was more behind-the-scenes, but no less effective. Besides his work at St. Luke's, Paul was the driving force of the LGBT Concerns committee for the Diocese of New York. His principal responsibility there was coordinating the Episcopal presence at the NYC Pride March, which takes place every June. Under Paul's tutelage, people from more than a dozen parishes on both sides of the Hudson River--an entire city block full of people--makes its way down Fifth Avenue leading a giant float proclaiming The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.
Imagine how many LGBT people saw that small army and that float over the years, and thought, Wait, what? A church wants me? All I've ever heard from church people was what an abomination I am. Be they a teenager scared to come out to hir parents, or an older person who finally came to grips with a lifelong secret, this witness affected people on the sidelines: I know, because I was part of that march many times, and they told me, sometimes with tears in their eyes.
Paul made that happen, through cajoling, negotiating... maybe some vague threats, he did grow up in Trenton, after all. But most of all through his own quiet example. This was his gift to the church, and the treasure it yielded can't be counted.
We lost him today, with little warning. Just weeks before the March, on the Day of Witness, he was taken from us. I cannot begin to guess how we will fill his shoes, as organizer, mentor and friend.
The Presiding Bishop's wedding sermon was focused on the overwhelming power and importance of love, without which the most carefully-executed expression of piety assails the ears of the Almighty like a blaring kazoo chorus. Instead, the prophet Amos tells us:
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
In a few weeks, when we again line up to deliver that message of love and invitation to the city and the world, may our steps be guided by his voice and our feet propelled forward by his example.
NOTE: Besides the United States, the Episcopal Church has a presence in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Taiwan, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands.