LONDON — It was an electrifying and unexpected moment in the midst of what had been a (mostly) by-the-book British wedding service. And as it went on, you could practically feel centuries of tradition begin to peel away.
Here was a relaxed, charismatic African-American bishop — Michael Bruce Curry, the leader of the Episcopal Church — speaking to British aristocrats and members of the royal family in the cadence of the black American church.
But what was striking was not just his message, of love and inclusion; or his tone, which was soaring and magisterial; or his obvious delight in the matter at hand. It was the sheer fact of his prominence in a service that featured a fair number of ecclesiastical heavyweights, including the archbishop of Canterbury (who tweeted his admiration of the bishop).
The service, carefully put together by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, included all the usual traditional elements, like a reading from the Bible by Harry’s aunt, the sister of Diana, the late Princess of Wales.
It also featured a gorgeous rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” performed by the Kingdom Choir — a Christian group made up of black Britons that is based in southeast London and specializes in gospel music — and its leader, the renowned gospel singer Karen Gibson.
And it included prayers led by His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox archbishop of London; and Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a black Church of England priest who serves as chaplain to the queen and is the speaker’s chaplain in the House of Commons.
And there was a 19-year-old cello soloist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the first black musician to win the BBC’s Young Musician Award in its 38-year history.
Ms. Markle’s mother is African-American and her father is white, and it is clear the bride wanted to make a point of her racial identity, to put her heritage front and center in full view of the world. Here was a built-in audience. And it is equally clear that Prince Harry knew exactly what this would mean to the tradition-bound royal family.
In a place that is so white, in an institution that is so white, in a country with serious race problems, it was a gesture of profound significance.
It seems fair to say that never have so many people of color, among the congregation as well as the clergy and musicians, been in St. George’s Chapel at one time before.
It was hard