Bishops Michael B. Curry and Mariann E. Budde at Washington National Cathedral • Donovan Marks/Washington National Cathedral

By Peggy Eastman

During a packed diocesan-wide festal Eucharist in honor of Absalom Jones on Sunday, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry challenged Christians to join a Jesus movement that addresses the daily problems of modern life.

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“I’m asking you today to make a renewed commitment; I want you to dedicate yourself to the movement,” Curry preached. “If we ever get this right, then children will not starve; if we ever get this right, then people in Flint, Michigan, will have clean drinking water; if we ever get this right, then politics will be honorable.”

Then people of all ethnicities — white, black, Latino, Asian — “will learn to love each other,” he said.

“The world will know that you are disciples of Jesus not by how well you can recite the Nicene Creed in English or in Greek,” but by love. “I beseech you to leave this place committed to follow Jesus Christ.”

The rousing Eucharist, which featured traditional spirituals and other music by the Theodicy Jazz Collective, honored Jones as the first African-American ordained in the Episcopal Church. Jones, who was born on Nov. 17, 1746, and died on Feb. 13, 1818, was born into slavery in Delaware and traveled to Philadelphia with his master.

Jones taught himself to read by reading the New Testament and with Richard Allen founded the Free African Society to help newly freed slaves in Philadelphia. He founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black church in Philadelphia, which opened its doors in July 1794.

“Love is not a sentiment; it is a commitment to live not for myself alone,” Curry preached. “That’s what Absalom Jones was about.”

The presiding bishop noted that Jones purchased the freedom of his wife and children, who were also slaves, before purchasing his own freedom from slavery.

“That is what happens when you follow Jesus and not the world,” Curry said. “We need to remember Absalom Jones because he was our forebear in the Jesus movement. … The natural human instinct is to save yourself first. Absalom Jones is remembered rightly by us today because he followed a different drummer, Jesus Christ.

“Love has power because of its source,” the presiding bishop said. Love is from God, and is by definition the opposite of selfishness. “Love is self-giving.”

He cited one of the readings for the service, John 15:12-15, in which Jesus commands his disciples, “love one another as I have loved you.” He also cited 1 Corinthians 13, in which St. Paul teaches the squabbling Corinthians that even if one should “speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

“The Church of Corinth had a congregation that was made up of characters from Scandal on TV. … The Corinthian Church was a mess,” he said. “You think we’ve got problems in the Anglican church?”

The destructive factions, bickering, and discrimination within the Church of Corinth were what provoked Paul to write his passage on love, which the presiding bishop said he used in countless weddings as a parish priest.

“Our hearts are overflowing,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, after the presiding bishop’s sermon. She had invited clergy in the diocese to wear festal stoles and process with banners representing their congregations.

Budde urged those at the service to open their hearts and wallets during the offertory, whose proceeds were designated for the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, which equips students from underserved communities to succeed in their studies and to be role models.

The school is named for the late Bishop John T. Walker, the first African-American bishop of the Diocese of Washington. Budde said it is vital to support the school and expand its endowment for future generations of young men who will become leaders.

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