The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, will preach at next weekend’s wedding of Prince Henry of Wales – more informally referred to as Prince Harry – and the US actress Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace announced today (Saturday). Prince Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth and sixth in line to the throne, will marry Ms Markle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle next Saturday (19 May) in a service conducted by the Dean of Windsor, David Conner. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will officiate.
The invitation from the couple to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to preach at the service is a departure from tradition for British royal weddings. While previous royal weddings have involved clergy from other Christian churches saying prayers for the couple; sermons are usually given by senior C of E clergy. The service will be televised around the world, and it is likely that the Presiding Bishop, who refers to himself as the CEO of the Episcopal Church – the Chief Evangelism Officer – won’t resist the opportunity to talk about what he calls the Jesus Movement.
“The love that has brought and will bind Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle together has its source and origin in God, and is the key to life and happiness,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “And so we celebrate and pray for them today.”
Prince Harry was born on 15 September 1984 and was baptised at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, three-months later. After completing his formal education, he spent a gap year in Australia and South Africa before training for military service. He served with the British Army in Afghanistan as an officer in the Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons of the Household Cavalry, in the US-led operation to remove the Taliban from power following the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. His service in Afghanistan came to an end after his presence there was revealed by an Australian magazine; but he returned there a few years later in a deployment with the Army Air Corps. In 2014, he launched the Invictus Games for injured ex-service personnel; and is patron of a number of organisations, including the HALO Trust, which is working to remove mines from Qasr el Yahud – the site on the west Bank of the River Jordan at the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus.
Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 4 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, divorced when she was six-years-old. In her acting career, she has appeared in a number of roles, including in the films Get Him to the Greek, Remember Me, and Horrible Bosses. But she is best known her portrayal of the character Rachel Zane in the hit US-legal drama series Suits. Her character, a paralegal who trained to become an attorney, was the love interest of phoney-lawyer Mike Ross. Ms Markle married Trevor Engelson in 2011; but the couple divorced in 2013, long before Ms Markle met Prince Harry.
The couple have met Archbishop Justin Welby on a number of occasions as part of the preparations for the wedding; and Ms Markle asked Archbishop Justin to baptise her. It has been widely reported that she was baptised and confirmed by Archbishop Justin at St James’ Palace in London in March.
“It was very special,” Archbishop Justin told ITV News. “It was beautiful, sincere and very moving. It was a great privilege. . . You know at the heart of it is two people who have fallen in love with each other, who are committing their lives to each other with the most beautiful words and profound thoughts, who do it in the presence of God.”
Previous royal weddings have involved a range of preachers. When Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip in Westminster Abbey in November November 1947, the service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, Alan Don, while the wedding itself was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher. The sermon was preached by the Archbishop of York, Cyril Garbett.
Prince Harry’s mother and father, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, took the unusual decision of marrying at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. They were married by the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, who also preached. In 2005, after Diana’s death, Prince Charles married his second wife Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall, in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. This was followed by a Service of Prayer and Dedication at St George’s, Windsor, conducted by Archbishop Rowan Williams. There was no sermon in that service.
Prince Harry’s older brother, Prince William, married his wife Catherine at Westminster Abbey in 2011. The Dean of Westminster, John Hall, presided over the service, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, conducted the wedding. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, preached the sermon.
St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is located within the area of the Church of England’s Diocese of Oxford; but it outside the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. It is one of a small number of C of E churches known as Royal Peculiars – which means that it is under the direct control of the monarch, rather than the diocesan bishop or archbishop. Amongst the other Royal Peculiars are Westminster Abbey, the five chapels that make up the Chapels Royal, and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, in the Houses of Parliament.
THE US-based Episcopal Church is the oldest independent Anglican province outside the British Isles. When European travellers first colonised what is now the United States of America, they took with them clergy from European Churches, including the Church of England. C of E clergy and churches in the US were under the ecclesial authority of the Bishop of London; and despite requests from the Church of England in America and the Bishop of London himself, no suffragan bishop was appointed to reside in and serve the Church locally.
After the War of Independence, the Anglican Church in America effectively ceased to be part of the Church of England – not least because of the political difficulties of a Church tied to one nation trying to serve the population of another nation that had just won its independence. Now locally organised, Anglicans in America adopted the names Episcopal and Episcopalian, because even the name “Anglican” denoted its English origins.
The real split, however, came in 1784, when Church of England bishops refused to consecrate the American Church’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury. This was because of his reluctance to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. He was instead consecrated by bishops from the Scottish Episcopal Church, who had their own historical reasons to distance themselves from the Church of England.
Today, the US-based Episcopal Church has 109 dioceses and regional areas in 17 nations. It is one of 39 independent but interdependent autonomous Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is the senior bishop and Primate of the US-based Episcopal Church. He is a passionate evangelist. In an interview with ACNS following his installation as the Episcopal Church’s 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate in November 2015, he stressed the need for Christians to be part of “the Jesus Movement”.
“I can tell you that I believe passionately in the Great Commission and its call to go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has taught us,” he said.
“I believe that that’s a call, an invitation and an exciting possibility; and I think that is one of the foundational principles of our call to be the Church: to help to make other followers of Jesus who can then, following his teachings and following the way of Jesus in their life and in our lives together, help to make this world a better world – something that is less like a nightmare and more like God’s dream and God’s vision and God’s intention for the human family and the whole of creation.
“That, for me, is one of the centre-pieces of the Gospel.”