[Diocese of the Rio Grande] It was the consecration of a bishop reflecting the Southwest watched by thousands around the world.
Michael Buerkel Hunn became the 11th bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande on Nov. 3, succeeding the Rt. Rev. Michael Vono who served eight years and is resigning.
The service included Spanish music, a gospel proclaimed in Spanish and English, prayers in the Navajo language and Native flute music. More than 1,000 people filled First Presbyterian Church, downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest church venue, to witness the ordination of the Episcopal Church’s 1,110th bishop since its first, Samuel Seabury.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was joined by 30 bishops, including the Rt. Rev. James Gonia, bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to ordain Hunn. In his sermon, Curry acknowledged the 13 years he and Hunn had worked together. Hunn was Curry’s canon to the ordinary in North Carolina for 10 years and served three years as canon to the presiding bishop.
The service was livestreamed on Facebook and within 24 hours had nearly 20,000 views as far away as Hawaii and South Africa. The interest was likely fueled by Curry’s catapulting to prominence following his televised May 19 sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and American-born actress Meghan Markle.
At the consecration, Curry preached from a massive wooden pulpit in full view of three balconies, the nave and two transepts. He chose Second Corinthians 5:11-21 to preach on Paul’s view of the ministry of reconciliation. He said he likes the New International Version translation in verse 13 that reads, “Christ’s love compels us,” and then connected it to the Prayer of Consecration said over a new bishop.
“I’ve been a bishop for 18 years and prayed that prayer many times: ‘To you, O Father, all hearts are open; fill, we pray, the heart of this your servant whom you have chosen to be a bishop in your Church, with such love of you and all the people,’ and it says, ‘all the people.’ There’s no asterisk. I checked,” Curry said to applause and laughter.
After being presented to the congregation as bishop, Hunn said, “Dear Diocese of the Rio Grande, we will love God, for there is much work for us to do. We will go from this place into the world and we will ask, what is the most loving thing we can do? We will ask, what is the most liberating thing we can do? We will ask, what is the most life giving thing we can do? And we will do those things together.”
The theme of love carried on the next day in Hunn’s sermon at the “Welcoming and Seating of a Bishop” at the Cathedral of St. John. “We tend to build cathedrals in cities because cities know about need and want,” he said to nearly 400 worshippers. He used the gospel reading of the raising of Lazarus likening cathedrals to tombs.
“Lazarus was the first to rise from the dead, but he is not the last,” Hunn said. “And so we build cathedrals,” where resurrection can take place. “We come here to bear witness to the city of Albuquerque” and to bear witness that love “has burst open this tomb,” he said.
“I’ve seen glimpses of resurrection,” he said. “Our task is roll away the stone,” to be a place of art and music and love and reconciliation. “If we don’t do that there’s no way we’ll see glimpses of resurrection,” he said.
Hunn arrived at the cathedral as a pilgrim. He and about 25 young people walked through downtown streets streaming his pilgrimage on Facebook. He told the pilgrims of a tradition in England where a bishop would arrive at the city and walk to the cathedral making a holy journey. He then used his crozier to knock three times on the cathedral doors, saying the traditional words, “May the doors of this cathedral be opened that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.”
His pilgrimage ended at the bishop’s chair, the cathedra, where he was instituted and seated in “the symbol and center of [his] pastoral, liturgical and teaching ministry” in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Bells were rung throughout the cathedral and the cathedral organ liberally used a stop called “Bishop’s Trumpet” as the people celebrated.
Hunn opened his sermon on a light note: “That’s about the most commotion I’ve seen for someone who sits down on the job.”
Probably the most sitting he’ll be doing is driving his pickup truck between the 55 congregations spread throughout 154,000 square miles of New Mexico and Far West Texas that is the Diocese of the Rio Grande.