[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] Several hours after being elected as the Episcopal Church’s 27th – and first African-American – presiding bishop-elect, Michael Curry fielded a range of media questions with characteristic humility and humor June 27 and said he intends to build on the good work of his predecessor “because that’s the way the Spirit works.”
Current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori introduced Curry at a crowded press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City, saying the House of Bishops handed him “a major mandate” with the historic landslide victory.
Curry jokingly agreed that he thought both bishops and deputies “were happy houses today.”
Jefferts Schori and Curry became diocesan bishops the same year and “it’s the first time presiding bishops from the same class have been elected” successively,” she said. It is also the first time that a presiding bishop has been elected on the first ballot.
Curry, whose term will begin Nov. 1, was accompanied at the news conference by his wife Sharon, a daughter, Elizabeth, and other family members and friends. Included among his guests was “Josie Robbins who, when I was a young boy and my mother died, … was one of the women in our church community along with my grandmother and others who came in and raised me.”
“I believe in the community of church because I’ve been raised by it,” he said.
He shared some thoughts about a range of issues:
Among his priorities – the Jesus movement
“I am looking forward to serving and working for the cause of the Jesus movement in world … to help this become a transformed world that looks more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare. That’s what energizes me and what I believe in and we can really continue and build on the good work that’s been done in Bishop Katharine’s years.”
Evangelism vs. evangelical
“Everybody knows I really do take evangelism seriously and discipleship and witness and service and social advocacy, the gospel principles that we hold. Those three things are critical and needed in this time. I think The Episcopal Church has something to offer in the public square. We have a way of looking at the Gospel that makes known the love of God in Jesus.”
But is he evangelical? “I think it’s fair to say that I am a follower of Jesus.”
How will he address societal issues?
“Some of this will evolve over time,” Curry told the gathering, adding that there are good public initiatives already going on, with the church’s Office of Governmental Relations and other efforts, to address issues of racism and poverty.
Noting the specter of the recent killings of nine people at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, he added: “it was the voice of the Christian community that really did change the narrative from one that could have degenerated into a negative and hurtful to one that was a narrative of forgiveness. That’s one of the roles religious communities and in particular the Christian community can offer, is a positive way forward.”
Becoming the beloved community:
“I believe profoundly that Dr. King was right. We were put here to create the beloved community; God is the same God and creator of all of us. If we all come from the same source, I’m not a scientist … I’m just a preacher, but if we’ve got the same parental source then you’re related to everybody. We are brothers and sisters of each other. The hard work is to figure out how we live as beloved community, as the human family of God and do that in practical and tangible ways.”
Involving more Latinos in leadership roles
“This will be critical. It’s one of the things we’ve worked on in North Carolina. It has taken time. I’ve been bishop there for 15 years and people from the Latino community are now taking leadership in the life of the diocese. It’s happened over time in communities of faith.”
“I do love to preach. The preaching and teaching of God’s word does make a difference and can lift us up. You know the story in Ezekiel 37? That’s pretty much about preaching. We’re a valley of dry bones; God said preach to them and the bones started to shake, rattle, and roll … that is what preaching does. I hope to continue the preaching ministry as well, as a way of moving the church forward.”
On being elected the African-American leader of a largely white denomination
“It’ll be interesting to see what terms get used about me. Let’s wait and see.”
He said the election of Jefferts Schori as the first woman presiding bishop paved the way for him. “I was there when it happened and I remember just realizing it was an experience of the Holy Spirit for real. And today I had that same feeling,” he said, his voice growing softer.
“I think that’s a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and the movement of God in our world. It was like the day of Pentecost, when the spirit came down, people living in the spirit of God’s love, of God’s embrace, and we find ourselves growing more in the direction of God’s dream.”
On growing churches
“The gospel hasn’t changed. Jesus is still the same. We need to learn and discover new ways of carrying out and sharing that good news of Jesus. In this day, in this time, the church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it. That change of directionality on the part of the church, church-wide, will have impact for reaching people who are not automatically coming to our doors.”
What he wants people to know about him?
“That Michael Curry is a follower of Jesus. Not a perfect one. I want to be one of his disciples. I believe that the way of Jesus, the way of God’s love that we see in Jesus, is the way of life, life that sets us free, that moves us.
“I just want people to know that Michael Curry does strive to follow in the way of Jesus and reflect his love and compassion in his life and in the life of the church.”
“If you follow Jesus, you’re good with me … let’s go together. Ultimately, that’s the thing that matters. We deal with each other in love and charity. We’ll find a way forward. We will create space. Better yet, the spirit of God will create space for all of us.”
About the Supreme Court’s decision and what General Convention will do about same gender marriage
“The Supreme Court affirmed the authenticity of love. We’re in the business of love. There’s a hymn, ‘where true love is found, God himself is there.’ We’re in the process of working that out, what form that will take we’ll know at the end of this convention. The reality is the issues are about marriage. How do we make it fulsome and wholesome for all? How do we make marriage a context where life is ennobled and lifted up? Those are critical pastoral concerns.”
About healing the breach with the global south
“As a bishop, I am supportive of our current presiding bishop and our leadership and the work we’ve done. I am committed to the work of reconciliation. It is part of our gospel mandate. I have friends in the global south and many of my ancestors are from the global south. I will be an instrument of God’s reconciliation any way I can that will lead to true reconciliation. I’ll do my best.”
About living into his new ministry
“I am very thankful for the presiding bishop’s long, sustained, courageous, wise and faithful stewardship. Thank God for you,” he told Jefferts Schori. “I am very thankful, honored and blessed. I’ve been blessed to be bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for 15 years. I love that diocese and our people and I’m blessed to be the presiding bishop-elect.”
— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for Episcopal News Service.