London – It was clear from the moment they announced Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle’s engagement that this was going to be unlike all royal weddings past. The now Duchess of Sussex’s being American and being of biracial descent are things that set her apart from the women in the British royal family – which has sometimes struggled to appear inclusive – and were some of the reasons that made the engagement a momentous occasion. The royal family plays a largely symbolic role in our society, so the symbolism of this ceremony, which struck a clear note of inclusivity and diversity, was significant.
Markle fully embraced her African-American roots, and the couple were sure to make the celebration in Windsor Castle as diverse as possible, inviting members of the public as well as their loved ones. For many, it was the elements of the black church and gospel music which made the wedding feel inclusive and modern.
Bishop Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal church in the US, stole the show with his passionate address. His electrifying sermon brought a smile to people’s faces, and his message of the power of love – which tied in Martin Luther King, slaves of the antebellum south, and the eradication of poverty, marked a definite departure from royal weddings of yore. But the US bishop’s cry of “We’re going to sit down, we gotta get y’all married!” would not have been unfamiliar to anyone who has stepped inside a black church.
Gospel renditions of This Little Light of Mine (a staple in African American churches), and Ben E. King’s Stand By Me rang out in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, were delivered by Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir. And cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the first black musician to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, beautifully brought the hour-long ceremony to a close as he played Ave Maria to 600 of the couple’s friends and family.
Prayers led by Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the first black woman to hold the role of Queen’s chaplain, and the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Anba Angaelos, the first Coptic Bishop to be invited to formally participate in a royal ceremony in history, also marked this out as a royal wedding of a different hue and symbolised the multi-racial modern-day Britain Harry and Meghan themselves now represent.
The inclusion of a Coptic Archbishop honoured Coptic Christians all over the world. The Coptic Orthodox Church has the largest Christian presence in the Middle East, with approximately 10-15 million members in Egypt, representing about 15 per cent of the population.
Egypt-born Angaelos served as General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom since 1999 and is widely recognised for his extensive advocacy work, and as a result he was conferred the honour of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by The Queen for ‘Services to International Religious Freedom.’ He specialises in initiatives relating to international religious freedom and development work.
Majalla interviewed Archbishop Angaelos in April 2018: