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Episcopal Church Bishop On National Memorial Service For COVID-19 Victims


Memorial Day is tomorrow, and that's a day Americans stop to remember the men and women who lost their lives in conflict, especially those who died in uniform. And on this extraordinary Memorial Day weekend, many Americans are also pausing to reflect on another kind of devastating loss - the damage and pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the next few days, the United States is expected to reach 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, and that's why tonight, the National Council of Churches, a coalition of a hundred thousand Christian churches across the country, is hosting a national virtual memorial service to mourn the lives lost during this pandemic. The virtual service is viewable on YouTube and Facebook and is led by several prominent faith leaders. Bishop Michael Curry is one of them. He's the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Curry, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL CURRY: Thank you, Michel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I do want to mention that we've spoken before on happier occasions, after you...


MARTIN: ...Celebrated the marriage, for example, of the duke and duchess of Sussex and the publication of your - a book of prayers. And this is a very different time. And I'm just wondering how you're doing.

CURRY: Well, I'm - you know, I'm doing like everybody else to one degree or another. Some of us are worse, and some of us are a little better off. But everybody's affected by this. And I'm fortunate enough to be able to work at least greatly from home. And there are many others who have to work outside of home. And many others can't work from home. So I'm fortunate, and we're all in this struggling together, and we'll make it together. That's how we're going to make it.

MARTIN: A hundred thousand - it's a terrible marker...

CURRY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Of how much suffering...

CURRY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...This pandemic has caused in this country. What was the thinking behind holding this service today, on Memorial Day weekend?

CURRY: Well, the National Council of Churches was really aware that both here in the United States itself - but worldwide, the number is 300,000-plus. But here in the United States, approaching that horrible figure of 100,000 people - it's 100,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, siblings, uncles, aunts - you know what I mean? It's - those 100,000 real people, children of God of all stripes and types.

And the council was very aware that we haven't had an opportunity or claimed an opportunity to grieve collectively as a nation - that it's important to be able to grieve. And our faith traditions, our rituals of religion, actually help us to grieve. They at least create a context and some structure for grieving.

But we've not been able to do that. Families, you know, haven't been able to gather in the same way. And so we wanted to give people in this country of all stripes and types an opportunity at least to grieve in one sense those who have died and to pray for those who care for them, those who have suffered loss - to give thanks for those who are helping out in so many ways in this time. But to come together - this is something we can all agree on regardless of our politics.

MARTIN: Well, a couple questions about some of the points you just made. This weekend is also when President Trump is putting a lot of pressure on faith leaders and governors and local officials, demanding that houses of worship be allowed to open for in-person services immediately. It isn't clear that he has any authority to dictate that. But the fact that you're holding this memorial service virtually tonight seems, in a way, a response to the president. Is that what you intended?

CURRY: Well, this service was planned before he said that. So it was actually planned. But the truth is, many religious communities, and I know in the Episcopal Church, are being mindful of paying attention to public health officials and what is recommended by our public health officials.

In this context, I think it's important to say the church is never closed. We just couldn't enter the church buildings. I've gone to church every Sunday. I've just had to do it on YouTube or Facebook. I've been praying as much with people, if not more. It's just been on telephone or via Zoom or via Facebook. So the church was never closed. It's just the buildings that were, and the buildings are not the church.

This is a time, Michel when, you know, where the Bible says where Jesus said, you shall love your neighbor as yourself - in this context, to love your neighbor means to wear a face mask. To love your neighbor means to stay 6 feet away from each other. To love your neighbor means to do what public health officials ask us to do - not for ourselves alone, but for everybody, for the common good.

MARTIN: As to the question of who's included, the virtual service tonight is hosted by the National Council of Churches. It's a group that includes 38 Christian communions or denominations. In the invitation, you've invited people of all faiths, including Muslims and Jews and, I assume, people who don't profess a faith, to unite in mourning. But a number of people who adhere to these traditions would like to see leaders of their own faith traditions included in the service. Is there a plan for that?

CURRY: Well, I can tell you what's actually happening simultaneous - or not simultaneously, but at the same time. The National Council of Churches is sponsoring and leading this ecumenical memorial service, and that's sponsored by the National Council of Churches. That is for anybody who wishes to come and honor those who have died and to pray for all who've been affected by COVID-19.

It just so happens that another gathering of religious leaders are calling on and inviting churches, mosques, synagogues, Christian, Jews, Muslims, people of all faiths, of no faiths, of any tradition next weekend to pray in their worshipping communities for those who have died from COVID-19. So that will be interfaith - will include Jews and Muslims on their Shabbat, Friday and Saturday, on their time, and then Christians on Sunday, on the day of Pentecost.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, a few days ago, you said in a video message that this memorial service is about coming together to pray for those who've died and for those who grieve but also to pray for the healing of our nation beyond this service and this weekend and, in fact, next weekend as this crisis clearly continues.

How do we go about healing? I mean, you kind of alluded in a gentle way to the fact that this has opened up inequalities and inequities that already existed. And also divisions are being, you know, exacerbated that were already there but are being kind of amplified by this. How do we go about healing? And I realize that's a big topic, but as briefly as you can...

CURRY: Yeah, we can do a whole nother show on that. But part of the way is, I think, for all of us to make a commitment to being people who are driven, guided and directed by love - unselfish sacrificial love that seeks the good and the welfare of others. And that means if people of faith would just do that - of all faith - and I don't mean just Christian faith. If people of faith, of any faith, and people of goodwill would make a commitment to, doggone it, I'm going to be a person of love even when it's hard for me to do it. I'm going to do it.

The more of us that do that and actually live in that way and actually encourage our society to live that way, the more of us that are committed to that, then maybe, please God, nobody will be left behind. Then maybe, please God, inequalities will be overcome. Then maybe, please God, we will learn how to live together as brothers, sisters and siblings even when we disagree. But we will learn how to love each other as the first principle of how we relate to each other. And if that happens, you've got a revolution in human relationships and society. It may be the second American Revolution.



MARTIN: That is Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Curry, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CURRY: Thank you, Michel. Good to be with you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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