Michael Curry, who arguably became America’s most famous Episcopalian when he gave a striking sermon at Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry in May, is in Austin this week along with about 8,000 other Episcopal Church members for a 10-day convention that will address largely internal issues.
This is the first time the convention — which only happens every three years — has been held in Austin, but the second time it has been in Texas. In 1970, the convention was in Houston.
Texas congregations, including St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin, are excited to have the event held here “because we are a stone’s throw away from the convention,” said the Rev. Chuck Treadwell, the rector for the church.
One highlight of the convention, even for those who are not Episcopalian, is hearing Curry, the church’s first African-American presiding bishop, who has been vocal on such issues as racial justice, LGBT equality and sexual harassment. Curry’s worship service is open to the public and will be held at the Palmer Events Center on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
“The presiding bishop has always been an important role and respected, but Michael Curry has movie-star-quality fame now,” Treadwell said. “People want to take pictures with him. I think part of the reason is the royal wedding, but now the world gets to see how he is, and we like to think that that’s reflective of who we are.”
Curry, on Wednesday, said his first honest prayer shortly before preaching at the royal wedding was “I really didn’t want to mess it up; this was like a big congregation, so I didn’t want to mess it up.” His second prayer was “that I could actually say something that would represent the good grace of Jesus Christ for real” because of the various “representations of Christianity that don’t look anything like Jesus.”
“So, I really did want Michael Curry to get out of the way — I really did, and I still do,” Curry said. “So that the message of love for God and love for neighbor and making a difference in the world would be the message and the centerpiece of what it is to be a Christian.”
Treadwell, an elected deputy for the Diocese of Texas, and other voting members of the church get to work on legislative committees at the convention. Typically, they include working on hot social topics, Treadwell said. This year, officials are focusing on finding solutions to internal affairs, which include evaluating their prayer book and how administrative matters in the church are handled.
They also will be discussing how to reconnect with the Episcopal Church in Cuba, where a U.S. embargo cut financial relationships with the Cuban church, and many clergy members facing retirement were not allowed to buy into pension plans, Treadwell said.
Church leaders also plan to discuss the #MeToo movement, gun violence and the separation of immigrant families at the border.
“Love is the way” was a sentiment preached at the royal wedding and when it comes to discussions on those issues, Curry said, “I really hope and pray that ‘love is the way’ will be the way that we will be at this convention.”
In the past 15 years, the church has become more liberal when it comes to taking a stance on social issues, said Eileen Flynn DeLaO, a former religion reporter for the American-Statesman who teaches journalism and religion at the University of Texas. But when it comes to changes to things like their prayer book, she said, “people can get really outraged.”
“Tradition is so important,” she said. “They are embracing new cultural shifts in our society, yet they are still very traditional. But it’s always this kind of wrestling with the old and the new with the Episcopal Church.”
Besides Curry’s royal wedding fame, the Episcopal Church fascinates many on the outside of the religion, Flynn DeLaO said.
“It’s a tiny church and yet people watch it,” she said. “And because it has this outsized influence on our society, people are curious about what the Episcopal Church is doing. But it is something that people are fascinated by and they will be watching very closely.”
The convention is the church’s governing body and is composed of the House of Bishops, with more than 200 active and retired bishops, and the House of Deputies, with more than 800 members, according to the Episcopal Church.
This General Convention also will be “the first time since 1970, when women were first permitted to be seated as deputies, that the deputies will be majority female,” the Episcopal News Service reported. “And this General Convention boasts the youngest and most diverse group of legislative committee officers ever.”
Austin was chosen in 2014 from three finalist cities and the decision was presented by the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which encompasses Austin, engages about 79,500 members and includes 154 congregations, 14 of which are in Austin.
“Austin emerged as the best site for 2018 because of a convergence of factors, including superb facilities that have achieved a LEED Gold environmental rating,” Barlowe said in a statement. “A walkable location, close to all hotels and the vibrant music venues and restaurants of downtown; and the fact that the Austin Convention Center was by far the most economical choice for the church.”