I was about to leave the house for a meeting yesterday, when the Royal Wedding started. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to watch the first few minutes. “These events are all the same,” I told myself and quickly sent a text message that I would be 20 minutes late. Thirty minutes later, I realised that I was wrong and sent another message, delaying the appointment even further.
The stuffy rehash of centuries-old traditions that I had expected was replaced by something far more diverse and modern than I thought was possible, especially for the family Meghan Markle was marrying into. Sure, the timing was precise and traditions were upheld, but beyond that there were fresh injections of colour and vibrancy, stemming from her African-American heritage and the prince’s open-mindedness . Unexpectedly, these were not just token representations and a sprinkling of Black celebrities and other guests, but a virtual ‘takeover’ in parts of the service.
The biggest surprise for me was the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry, the first African-American to lead the Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in the United States). After typical opening remarks by the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, Bishop Curry appeared, seemingly benign, with a sermon about the ‘power of love’. However, he quickly jolted the audience in St. George’s (the Queen’s chapel) when he changed gears and went in full ‘Black preacher’ mode, with a powerful, sometimes rambling, but ultimately uplifting message. It was wonderful to watch the bemused faces of various royals and other establishment figures – some with fixed smiles for the cameras and others open-mouthed – given that they are used to hearing sermons delivered in bland homilies and more measured tones.
Bishop Curry acknowledged the role of romantic love in bringing the couple together but made the case for love being the ultimate solution for poverty, injustice, war and inequality. He referred to slavery in America, reminded us of Negro spirituals and quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, as he clocked up 15 minutes – more than twice his allotted time. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Selby, who recommended Curry to Harry and Meghan, “It just blew the place open. It was fantastic… People were gripped by it. This was raw God.”
As if that wasn’t enough, his tour de force was followed by Karen Gibson and her Kingdom Choir, singing Ben E. King’s 1950’s hit, ‘Stand by Me’. Ostensibly a love song, the lyrics in the verses had a surprisingly spiritual ring to them, when heard on hallowed ground.
When the night has come,
And the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we see.
No, I won’t be afraid.
Oh, I won’t be afraid,
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.
If the sky that we look upon,
Should tumble and fall,
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea.
I won’t cry, I won’t cry.
No, I won’t shed a tear.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me,
Their harmonies soared upwards and filled the chapel, delighting even the most conservative of guests and demolishing any remaining resistance to this wedding’s deliberate cultural statements. No wild card, the choice of this choir was slightly more predictable, as they are hugely popular internationally and have performed for various leading figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
As if to calm any rattled establishment nerves, the proceedings quickly returned to the status quo, with the usual wedding vows, blessings, hymns and prayers. However, Prince Harry had chosen one last present for his guests – a stunning visual statement that was aurally soothing in equal measure – the outstanding cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason. For me, this was the most memorable moment of the entire occasion. The first of his three renditions was the impossibly beautiful ‘Après un Rêve’ (After a Dream) by Fauré, which, although not sung, speaks of an intense longing for a missing loved one.
The sight and sound of the BBC Young Musician of the Year (2016) in his well-groomed Afro, leading the orchestra and playing the most moving classic music, spoke more eloquently than even Bishop Curry could, of the power of sheer excellence to overcome the most persistent societal and professional barriers.
In years to come, it’s possible that this wedding will be seen as I had pre-judged it – an over-hyped event with little influence on the lives of ordinary people in Britain and around the world. However, it’s just as possible that it may have quite an impact on attitudes in British society. While that remains to be seen, I suspect that little Black boys and girls in the UK (and other countries) will be feeling prouder and more included today than they have ever been. That pride and feeling of belonging opens up possibilities and could inspire a lasting swell of ambition and achievement in some of them – only time will tell.
When a pregnant Doria Ragland sat watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana some 36 years ago, she would have laughed off any wild suggestions that her unborn, biracial child would grow up to marry their son. Meghan herself might have giggled at the same thought, as she posed for a holiday snap in front of Buckingham Palace at age 15.
It might take a while, but time and experience has taught us one thing – that we should never underestimate the power of love.
“We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.” ~ William Gladstone
“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can do small things with great love and together we can do something wonderful.” ~ Mother Theresa