The Episcopal Church recently made a historic choice by electing its first African American presiding bishop.
Bishop Michael Curry, 62, of the Diocese of North Carolina was elected by a landslide at the Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City.
His election is a second historic choice for the New York-based church of about 1.9 million members.
He is succeeding Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was the first female presiding bishop and the first woman to lead an Anglican national church.
During a news conference at the convention, Curry said his selection was “a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and in the movement of God’s spirit in our world.”
The Episcopal Church, one of the oldest and most historic Christian bodies in the United States and the faith home of many Founding Fathers and U.S. Presidents, has made efforts in recent years to confront its own history of racism.
Two examples: First, the church asked dioceses to research their own links to slavery because many Episcopalians were slaveholders whose donations were used to build churches, cathedrals and schools; and second, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori held a national service of repentance in 2008 to apologize for the church’s complicity with slavery, segregation and racism.
Not only was her election in 2006 historic, but it followed yet another significant denominational event: The election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, to serve as the Bishop of New Hampshire, making him the first openly gay person to hold such an office.
Bishop Curry is taking charge at a time when fewer Americans are formally affiliating with a particular religious group, a trend that contributes to steady membership declines in the Episcopal Church and in other liberal Protestant groups. Membership in the Episcopal Church has dropped by 18 percent over the past decade.
Bishop Curry supports gay rights and has spoken against North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, now invalid, and has allowed same-sex church weddings in the North Carolina diocese.
He is known for his emphasis on evangelism, public service and social justice and is the author of “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus.”
The bishop has said he prays “for a church passionately committed to making disciples. At a deep level I am suggesting a church-wide spiritual revival of the Christian faith in the Episcopal way of being disciples of Jesus.”
Before his election to the top post in the church, area Episcopalians were not making predictions or taking bets on the upcoming vote, but the word on the church grapevine was that Bishop Curry was extremely popular with delegates to the convention. There were four candidates for the office.
Bishop Curry’s popularity in North Carolina has steadily grown during his tenure. He was consecrated in 2000 in a colorful and majestic ceremony at Duke Chapel in Durham, the “closest thing in North Carolina to a great cathedral,” according to one of the planners.
During the years as he has visited churches across the diocese, he always seemed to bring joy, hope and good will. His sermons, with just enough of his“black preaching tradition” to keep a congregation on the edge of the pew, were from the heart, not the head.
He sometimes came down from the pulpit into the congregation, suggesting that although he was the one wearing the mitre (the hat worn by Christian bishops to symbolize their spiritual authority) he was a shepherd, not a figurehead.
Bishop Curry will be installed Nov. 1 in a service at the Washington National Cathedral, the day Jefferts Schori completes her nine-year term.
Contact Flo Johnston at [email protected] or call 910-361-4135.