North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry elected as 27th Presiding Bishop

Historic decision will bring first person of color into top leadership office

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, speaks to a packed House of Deputies hall after deputies confirmed his election as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Curry’s family and others joined him on the dais. Photo: Cynthia L. Black/For ENS

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, speaks to a packed House of Deputies hall after deputies confirmed his election as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Curry’s family and others joined him on the dais. Photo: Cynthia L. Black/For ENS

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:55 p.m. MDT to note historic nature of first-ballot election. 

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City, Utah] The Episcopal Church’s General Convention made history June 27 when it chose Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry to be its 27th presiding bishop.

Curry, 62, was elected by the House of Bishops from a slate of four nominees on the first ballot. He received 121 votes of a total 174 cast. Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith received 21, Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, 19, and Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, 13. The number of votes needed for election was 89.

Curry’s election was confirmed an hour later by the House of Deputies, as outlined in the church’s canons, by a vote of 800 to 12.

He will serve a nine-year term that officially begins Nov. 1. On that date, Curry will succeed current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and he will become the first person of color to hold that position.

A liturgy marking the beginning of Curry’s ministry as presiding bishop and primate will be celebrated Nov. 1, All Saints Day at Washington National Cathedral.

The House of Deputies, which was filled with visitors and bishops awaiting Curry, erupted into sustained applause when Jefferts Schori and Curry entered at about 2:30 p.m. His entrance came about 30 minutes after the House of Deputies confirmed his election. Deputies stood on their chairs, holding aloft their phones, tablets and cameras to capture the historic moment.

“Oh, God love ya,” Curry said when he got to the microphone on the dais. “I know you haven’t had lunch so, no sermons now.”

The deputies worked past their scheduled 1 p.m. recess to vote on Curry’s election and hear him speak.

“It really is a blessing and privilege to serve our church and to serve our Lord in this way,” he said. “I treasure this church, this house, the House of Bishops, all of us. We are God’s children.”

Curry said The Episcopal Church is “the church where I learned about Jesus.”

“This is a good and wonderful church and we are good and wonderful people and I thank God to be one of the baptized among you,” Curry said, adding, “My heart is really full.”

“We’ve got a society where there are challenges before us and there are crises all around us. And the church has challenges before it,” he said. “We got a God and there really is a Jesus, and we are part of the Jesus Movement. Nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world”

As Curry left the dais, people in the house sang the Doxology.

Curry has been North Carolina’s 11th diocesan bishop since he was ordained and consecrated on June 17, 2000. He was the rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Maryland, when he was elected to the see on Feb. 11, 2000. He is also the current chair of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Board of Directors.

This makes the second time in a row that the General Convention made history with its election of a presiding bishop. In 2006, Jefferts Schori became the first woman ever elected presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. She was also the first female among the primates, or ordained leaders, of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces, a distinction she still holds.

Curry’s election also made history by being the first time a presiding bishop was chosen on the first ballot.

Echoing an old spiritual, Curry said during a video interview after his nomination was announced on May 1 that “our hand must be on the Gospel plow.”

“We are followers of Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth – and the truth is we’ve got a message to proclaim, a life to live and something to share and offer the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of suffering in this world. There’s a lot of heartache, there’s a lot of nightmare. We are people who believe that God has a dream and a vision for this world, and that Jesus has shown us how to follow him in the direction of that and how to help this world live into God’s dream and vision for us now.

“Our work is actually the work of participating in the Jesus movement, which seeks to realize God’s dream and seeks to accomplish God’s mission in this world,” Curry said.

The church must help form disciples who will live like Jesus, Curry said. Such formation must become a priority so that the church is not just creating members, but disciples of Jesus “who actually live out and struggle to live out the teachings of Jesus in their lives, and make a tangible difference” in the world. If such churchwide formation combined with Episcopalians’ individual commitments to imitate Jesus, “we would transform this world,” Curry said.

“After formation, there’s evangelism and I know sometimes folks are afraid of that word, but I’m not talking about evangelism like other folk do it,” he said. “I am talking about the kind of evangelism that is as much listening as it is sharing.” Being present with another person and listening to that person is a “transforming possibility” of invitation and welcome.

Episcopalians must also be willing to “witness in the social sphere, witness in the public sphere, through personal service that helps somebody along the way … prophesying deliverance … [and] being a voice for those who have no voice,” Curry said.

To do this, Episcopalians need to partner with Anglicans around the world along with people of other faith traditions, according to Curry.

And “we need to create organizational structures that serve the mission, that help the institution and the church become a vessel of the Jesus movement,” he concluded.

The election process

The names of all four bishops were formally submitted to the General Convention by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop during a joint session on June 26, the day before the election. There were no additional nominees from the floor during that session.

Anyone intending to make such a nomination had to inform the nominating committee of that intention by May 12 so that additional nominees could undergo the same background screening process that the committee completed for all of its nominees. The committee announced on May 12 that no additional bishops were nominated.

The four nominees spoke to convention participants during a three-hour session on June 24, the afternoon before the General Convention formally convened.

Bishops gathered at the Convention Eucharist at 9:30 a.m. on June 27 in the Salt Palace Convention Center. Following that, the bishops with seat, voice and vote traveled to St. Mark’s Cathedral, where the election session was closed and took place in the context of prayer and reflection.

After Curry was elected but before his name was announced, Jefferts Schori sent a delegation to House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings informing her of the result. Jennings referred Curry’s name to the House of Deputies legislative committee on the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop without announcing the news to the full House. The legislative committee was charged with recommending to the House of Deputies whether to confirm the election or not confirm. The deputies heard the recommendation at 1:48 p.m. local time, and began to debate the confirmation request.

The House of Bishops remained in session at the cathedral until a delegation of deputies, appointed by Jennings notified the House of Bishops of the action taken. No communication was permitted from the House of Bishops during the election and until confirmation was received.

Shortly after receiving word of the confirmation of his election, Curry came to the House of Deputies.

Presiding Bishop-elect Curry will preach at the convention’s closing Eucharist on July 3, and Jefferts Schori will preside.

The roles of the presiding bishop
The presiding bishop is primate and chief pastor of the church, chair of the Executive Council, and president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The canonical outline of the presiding bishop’s election and term can be found in Title I Section 2 of the church’s Canons.

(The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the legal and canonical name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission.)

Curry’s election comes near the start of a meeting of General Convention that is considering a number of proposals to change some aspects of the governance and management of the church-wide structure and, hence, the roles and responsibilities of the presiding bishop.

According to Title I Section 2 in its current form, the presiding bishop is “charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy in the church and speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention.”

The presiding bishop also “speaks God’s word to the church and world as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity,” represents The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion, serves as chief consecrator of bishops, and leads the House of Bishops. He or she also holds a significant role in the discipline and changes in status of bishops.

Also, the presiding bishop exercises a significant role in the governance of the church by making appointments to various governing bodies, making decisions with the president of the House of Deputies, serving as a member of every churchwide committee and commission, and serving as chair and president of key church governing boards. He or she is the chief executive officer of the Executive Council, which carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). Therefore, the presiding bishop is responsible for staff and operations of the Episcopal Church Center, with the exception of the executive office of the General Convention.

In its “Call to Discernment and Profile”, the joint nominating committee said the 27th presiding bishop would need to be “comfortable in the midst of ambiguity and able to lead the church in the rich, temporal space between the ‘now,’ and the ‘yet to come.’” The person discerned and elected by the church would need to “delight” in the diversity of a “multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational church.” And, because “our polity has many components and complexities,” the 27th presiding bishop will need the “skills and wisdom for leading complex and democratic systems through a time of significant change.”

Historically, the office of presiding bishop was filled automatically by the most senior bishop in the House of Bishops, measured by date of consecration, beginning with the presidency of William White at the first session of the 1789 General Convention. That process changed in 1925 when the church elected the Rt. Rev. John Gardner Murray as the 16th presiding bishop.

Presiding Bishop-elect Curry’s past ministry
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 13, 1953, Curry attended public schools in Buffalo, New York, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975 from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, New York, and a Master of Divinity degree in 1978 from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He has also studied at the College of Preachers, Princeton Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University, the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary, and the Institute of Christian Jewish Studies.

He was ordained to the diaconate in June 1978 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, New York, and to the priesthood in December 1978, at St. Stephen’s, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He began his ministry as deacon-in-charge at St. Stephen’s, and was rector there 1979-1982. He next accepted a call to serve as the rector of St. Simon of Cyrene, Lincoln Heights, Ohio, where he served 1982-1988. In 1988, he became rector of St. James’, Baltimore, Maryland, where he served until his election as bishop.     

In his three parish ministries, Curry was active in the founding of ecumenical summer day camps for children, the creation of networks of family day care providers and educational centers, and the brokering of millions of dollars of investment in inner city neighborhoods. He also sat on the commission on ministry in each of the three dioceses in which he has served.

During his time as bishop of North Carolina, Curry instituted a network of canons, deacons and youth ministry professionals dedicated to supporting the ministry that already happens in local congregations and refocused the diocese on The Episcopal Church’s dedication to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals through a $400,000 campaign to buy malaria nets that saved thousands of lives.

Throughout his ministry, Curry has also been active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality.

He serves on the boards of a large number of organizations and has a national preaching and teaching ministry. He has been featured on The Protestant Hour and North Carolina Public Radio’s The State of Things, as well as on The Huffington Post. In addition, Curry is a frequent speaker at conferences around the country. He has received honorary degrees from Sewanee, Virginia Theological Seminary, Yale, and, most recently, Episcopal Divinity School. He served on the Taskforce for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church and recently was named chair of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Board of Directors.

His book of sermons, Crazy Christians, came out in August 2013.

Curry and his wife, Sharon, have two adult daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. hallelujah! A historic and timely vote!

  2. And a son of St. Phillip Buffalo where his dad was Rector.

  3. The Rev. Canon Howarth Lewis Jr. says:

    A wonderful day for the Episcopal Church. May a new wind spirit flow through the church and a renewed sense of the mission of Jesus Christ be proclaimed,

  4. Daphne Hastings Wilcox says:

    Praise God! I am thrilled for our church.

  5. Elizabeth Davis says:

    Dear Bishop Curry:

    I just enjoyed your sermon about the “crazy Christians” on Youtube. In recent days, like so many others, I have reflected a great deal about the powerful history of the African American church throughout the history of this nation. I am so happy that you will be able to bring us a little closer to that history. You seem like a “good man,” as President Obama said of Rev. Clementa Pinckney yesterday, in what was likely the most important speech of his life. I rejoice that change is afoot. May you help bring us into it. There remains so much to be done.

    In Christian love,
    Prof. Elizabeth B. Davis
    Columbus OH

  6. Chuck Till says:

    Here in the Diocese of North Carolina, we are thrilled! Bishop Curry has been a wonderful leader for 15 years. Although we will miss seeing and hearing him so often, we know that The Episcopal Church has made a spirit-filled choice and we look forward to nine years of his leadership at the global level.

  7. martha knight says:

    I am so overjoyed with the result of this election!!!!! This is exactly what TEC needs, to further our role of reconciliation and love. YEAH!

  8. The Rev. Connie Campbell-Pearson says:

    Dear Sir,
    We are delighted that God has chosen you to serve. As deacons in the Diocese of Montana, we look forward to partnering with you in put our hands on the Gospel plow with you. Thank you Jesus!!!

  9. The Rev. Ann Van Dervoort says:

    I preached about “crazy Christians” last Sunday, and hoped and prayed with all my heart that Bishop Curry would be our new PB! What great news!!

  10. katherine lwebuga mukasa says:

    Wonderful, Marvelous! God is good to send us such a minister. A Son of St Philip’s where he learned from his father’s example, the late Father Kenneth Curry.

  11. Franca Floro says:

    Congratulations to the Church and Bishop Curry. May God continue to bless you and shine down upon you as you take on this important work in your new role.

  12. FRANK E. TATE, III says:

    I am very glad that, a new breeze is blowing in the life of the Episcopal Church and, Micheal Curry, as the presiding bishop elect.
    May this wing of Christ One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, live, what these word mean.
    We are One.
    Forward through the Ages In Unbroken Line.

  13. The Rev. Donald Goodheart says:

    As someone who knows Bishop Curry personally, I am certain that our church is blessed to have him as Presiding Bishop. He is a man of deep faith and integrity. We will miss him in North Carolina but his gifts are what the Episcopal Church and our nation need right now.

  14. I am put in mind of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin'” – imagine – Marriage Equality, a national discussion about the heritage of the Confederacy – and Michael Curry as TEC’s Presiding Bishop. Indeed, times they are a changin’!!! Alleluia!! Praise God! Perhaps indeed the Spirit is working in new and marvelous ways even as we speak. Meanwhile, we continue to pray for changed hearts as well as changed times. But for now, I will rejoice in this moment of grace.

    • Barbara Alexander says:

      David, Your words convey what I have been trying to articulate all day, and Bob Dylan did get it right. What an enormous hurdle we have cleared and how proud we are that all of this was accomplished in our lifetime.
      Thanks be to God and the Supreme Court.

  15. Martha Jane Patton says:

    In some of our country’s darkest hours in the fight against racism, God has sent a light-bearer. What a wonderful gift to the Episcopal Church and the world.

  16. charles malone says:

    This has been a momentous week for good and Bishop Curry’s ascension to be the presiding bishop for the national church tops it off perfectly. He is the right man at the right time. I feel confident he will be bring a new energy and light to the church that is long overdue.

  17. ann laughlin says:

    so overdue. so ‘duh’. Great news

  18. Judith Atkinson! says:

    Thank God, for you Bishop Curry. I’m putting my hands on the gospel plow!

  19. Karen White says:

    I am glad to be one of your “Crazy Christians”. May God’s blessings always be upon you and your family as you enter this new stage of your lives.

  20. Francisco Vásquez says:

    Revdmo. Michael Curry
    Elected Bishop Primated

    Dear Pastor in God:
    Congratulations on this glorious day. It is true that we are going to Galilee. ¡Enhorabuena!

  21. Clem Leslie says:

    Recently the University of Richmond , VA elected a black president. Now the election of a black Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Bishop Curry, be assured of prayers from a black Salvation Army officer.

  22. Anne Bay says:

    I am not familiar with any of the nominees for PB, but that being said after reading this Bishop’s background, history, and experience, it looks like he is an excellent choice to be PB. Incredibly well-educated, forward looking, and a history of creating programs meeting a wide spectrum of human needs this person will take the Church into meaningful paths of growth. I am sure the present PB will do all she can to make the transition for him to be the PB a good one.

  23. Father Allan Nanton-Marie says:

    Good Brother Michael:

    I have followed your ministry and work since our graduation from Yale in 1978 and am as delighted for you as if I myself had been elected to your high office.
    May the love of St. John, the wisdom of King Solomon, the vision of Moses, the graciousness of Abraham and the humility of our Lord envelope you as you continue to serve for the greater Glory of God!

    Nanton-Marie, Yale 78

  24. Pamela Germany says:

    Amen! Great leadership deserves rewards.

  25. The Rev. James Abernathey says:

    Great news! Great for the Episcopal Church and great for the Kingdom! This old retired Texas priest is thrilled.

    • Michael Kiju Paul says:

      What a great day! Revival and reconciliation is coming to the Episcopal. Evangelism and “Crazy” Witnessing is the new beginning in our Church. May the Name of Jesus be blessed and glorified.

  26. Richard Hall says:

    Congratulations to our new Bishop Curry. We are a church that Loves all as Jesus has taught us. Now is the time that stand with the Christians and others in the middle east and Africa that are being persecuted and martyred. We have been silent too long. After WWII the world said “Never Again”, well Never Again is NOW and we must unite with all people of faith to stop it. To not act is to act, to not speak is to speak and we must act and speak for those who can not.

    Pray for our new Bishop and the leadership that he will bring.

    Please join us in Birmingham Alabama on August 28, 29 and stand united with all people of faith.

  27. Selena Smith says:

    I welcome this election, and also I am glad to welcome the Episcopal Church into the 20th century acknowledging leadership of persons of color. Now Bishop Curry can lead ECUSA into the 21st century as the Episcopal Church learns to be better followers of Jesus Christ who spans all time.

  28. Mareea Wison says:

    Dear Bishop Curry,
    God’s Many Blessings to U , Ihave added U to my daily Pray list, the Church has definitely moved into the 21st Century, how Blessed we are to be a part of this history.
    Faithfully,
    Mareea

  29. Revda.Carmen Gomes says:

    Deus seja Louvado,por essa extraordinária eleição! Um profeta escolhido por Deus !
    Vamos orar por seu ministério Bispo Michael, para que a nossa Igreja Episcopal, possa junto
    com muitas parcerias realizar o sonho de Deus!
    Nossas orações.
    Carmen Etel Gmes+
    Revda.da IEAB .Diocese Meridional. Brasil.

  30. Rev. Beverly J. Kelly says:

    Presiding Bishop Curry,
    This comes about a year late, yet we are still amazed and thankful for your election as “The Man on Fire!”. I could not miss this opportunity to reach out and congratulate the Episcopal Church on this courageous ministry of following Jesus the Christ. I am desperate to reach you, and as the way of an introduction, I am also sending a letter with a photo that will further identify me. My husband and I met you and heard you preach at the Festival of Homiletics in past years. You know my brother, Fr. Walter Bryan. I hope to receive a response.

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