The preacher loved his big moment – and the crowds loved it even more

Bishop Michael Curry saved this wedding from the no-one-does-pageantry-like-us smugness that makes most of them such agonising televised events

Matthew Norman
Saturday 19 May 2018 18:47
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Royal Wedding: Bishop Michael Curry discussing the importance of the occasion

Every family has its black sheep – and both the groom and bride’s clearly have more than their share of those.

On this sunlit day, however, it fell to a good shepherd to elevate a wedding that might have been sunk by those troublesome sheep, into the most electrifying royal event yet witnessed.

It would be stretching it to claim the entire congregation was as smitten with the Bishop Michael Curry as this member of the TV audience and, judging by the frantic social media response, many millions more around the planet.

Her Brittanic Majesty looked, even by her usual standards, not amused. At no point did her husband seem tempted to end the Episcopalian bishop’s lines with the “Hallelujah!” they demanded. Prince Charles kept his head bowed during his lengthy reflections on the fiery power of love less in prayer, you suspected from the twitching of his mouth, than to mask the giggles. The two princesses of York, having already disappointed the fanbase with the relative sanity of their nuptial headgear, appeared stunned. If Mary of Teck had lived to be there, it would have killed her stone dead.

All right, his reverence did go on a bit. To this sermoniser, brevity would have denied him the opportunity to steal a glittering show. His was the hammiest appearance in a royal pulpit since Tony Blair’s hideous rendition of “When I was a child, I spake as a child...” at Diana’s funeral.

But whatever the royals made of him, Curry had me at Martin Luther King. As noon struck and the bride made her way up the aisle, who could have imagined that the service to follow would be predominantly a celebration not of the groom’s heritage, but of the bride’s on her maternal side?

Who’d have believed that the sonorous fustiness of the Anglican faith would, in front of its defender’s very eyes, be blown away by the warmth, passion and eloquence of a gifted preacher in the classic African American mould?

Curry saved this wedding from the no-one-does-pageantry-like-us smugness that makes most of them such agonising televised events. More than that, he did his bit to speed the Windsor transformation with a tour de force that touched on the archaic absurdities of that pageantry. “Did anyone come here in a car?” he asked. “I know there were carriages…”

Until he launched his marathon, nagging worries remained that this latest twist in the modernisation process would tend more towards the Kardashianisation, with the Markles emerging as one those unusual families that might rival the Windsors for dysfunction.

Thanks to him, the hysteria over Thomas Markle’s infection with HPV (Human Papararazzillus Virus) and the other public relations fiascos felt like ancient history suited to a ceremony held in a thousand-year-old castle.

Here instead was something eye-poppingly fresh: a head-on collision between old and new in which the new was entirely unintimidated by the anaemic conventions and prim sensibilities of the old.

When finally he was done, the broadcasters – sounding barely less bewildered than the royals looked – sought sanctuary in the barrage of cliche that dominated their work during the hours of drivelly waffle leading to it.

One of those takes, inevitably, was that occasions like this offer rare moments of national unity for a horribly diffuse and divided country. So they do. What else is there that even begins to answer the tortured question of what it means to be British? Only the most vinegary of republicans can resist the saccharine lure of a royal wedding, especially one as sprinkled with celebrity as this.

But for the 13 minutes in which the bishop took centre stage, it felt more like some kind of global celebration of the human spirit than the typically parochial orgy of self-congratulation.

If his reverence loves the sound of his own voice, he has excellent reason. And so, after six hours of unbroken exposure to this royal wedding, here’s hoping two things: that it is a very, very long time before the next; and that when it comes, Justin Welby has retired and been succeeded at Canterbury by the Bishop Michael Curry.

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