Union of Black Episcopalians begins vigil for Curry and the church

Rollicking, moving Eucharist kicks off weekend of leadership transition

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry elevates the bread and wine during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration offered by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Joining him at the altar, from left, are the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president; the Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, soon-to-be Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church; the Rev. Guy Leemhuis, a deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles who served as the presiding bishop’s chaplain during the service; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; the Rev. Christine L. McCloud, a deacon in the Diocese of Newark who served as Curry’s chaplain during the service; the Rev. Diane Peterson, a deacon in the Diocese of Connecticut who served as the deacon of the Mass; Former Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan Baxter, UBE honorary national president; and the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson, who preached during the service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry elevates the bread and wine during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration offered by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Joining him at the altar, from left, are the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president; the Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, soon-to-be Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church; the Rev. Guy Leemhuis, a deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles who served as the presiding bishop’s chaplain during the service; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; the Rev. Christine L. McCloud, a deacon in the Diocese of Newark who served as Curry’s chaplain during the service; the Rev. Diane Peterson, a deacon in the Diocese of Connecticut who served as the deacon of the Mass; Former Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan Baxter, UBE honorary national president; and the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson, who preached during the service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Washington, D.C.] During hours between the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration, hosted by the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the time when Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry is formally installed as presiding bishop and primate on Nov. 1, he and The Episcopal Church are being held in a traditional African-American prayer watch.

The prayers began during UBE’s rollicking and moving three-hour Eucharist at the D.C. Armory and will be continued hourly by members of the National UBE Weekly Prayer Fellowship and volunteers from the Washington National Cathedral’s Prayer and Pilgrimage Center. They will be praying for the church, its mission and its lay and ordained leadership.

At midnight Nov. 1, Curry, 62, officially will become the first person of color to hold the position of presiding bishop and primate. He will be The Episcopal Church’s 27th presiding bishop and its primate.

The Holy Eucharist and installation begins at Washington National Cathedral at noon EST (daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. Nov. 1) on what is All Saints Sunday. More information is here.

“It is delightful to note today that the church is not following the world,” said the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson during her sermon. “Tonight our clocks in the United States are turned back as our church moves forward.”

Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan speaks Oct. 31 to the Vigil Celebration UBE hosted at the D.C. Armory on the eve of Bishop Michael B. Curry’s installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan speaks Oct. 31 to the Vigil Celebration UBE hosted at the D.C. Armory on the eve of Bishop Michael B. Curry’s installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

UBE President Annette Buchanan put the historic nature of the weekend in perspective, noting that “in the beginning as black Episcopalians we outnumbered white Episcopalians in the South because we were slaves in The Episcopal Church.”

“To go from the slave to the head of the house is very interesting,” Buchanan said during her welcome.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, told the congregation that she gives thanks for both the ministry of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the past nine years and for Curry’s ministry to come as presiding bishop. “Buckle up; we’re going to have a heck of a ride for the next nine years,” she said.

Jefferts Schori said it was a “great joy and privilege to come, to arrive at this weekend of transition. I give enormous thanks for the election of Michael Curry as the next presiding bishop.”

“He is going to lead this church farther out into the world, deeper into the community and closer to the reign of God,” she said during the service. “Thanks be to God.”

Curry called the day blessed “not because of Michael Curry but a blessed day for this church we love, this God we serve and I can’t tell you what a blessing it has been to be a bishop while Katharine Jefferts Schori has been our presiding bishop.”

And, calling Jennings “my new best friend,” Curry said he looked forward to “more blessings” in their work together.

“We are God’s people and we are blessed to follow in the way of Jesus and to serve him in this world,” Curry told the congregation. “I look forward to joining with you in following this Jesus and helping to transform this world from our nightmare to God’s dream.”

Early in the service, Jefferts Schori invoked “our faithful ancestors and saints of the household of God … who have challenged our faith, shaped our lives and have brought us to this day.”

“It is delightful to note today that the church is not following the world. Tonight our clocks in the United States are turned back as our church moves forward,” said the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson, advisor to Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan and rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, during her sermon for UBE’s Oct. 31 Vigil Eucharist for Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“It is delightful to note today that the church is not following the world. Tonight our clocks in the United States are turned back as our church moves forward,” said the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson, advisor to Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan and rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, during her sermon for UBE’s Oct. 31 Vigil Eucharist for Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

In her sermon Wilson, too, called on the ancestors “who have borne the weight of the struggle” and she warned that there was still work to be done.

“These ancestors, without us, will not rest in peace,” she said. “They have done their work, but if we do not do our work, they will never rest in peace.”

Wilson, adviser to UBE’s Buchanan and rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, also recalled Curry’s insistence that the church live into its membership in what he calls the Jesus Movement. Many people, she said, have challenged her about the meaning of the Jesus Movement.

“Some are concerned that we must be more than social workers in communities. Others worry that the movement takes us away from the ‘institution,’ ” she said.

A movement, Wilson said, exists to change people’s lives and to challenge the status quo.

“It causes revolutions. It upsets people in power. It turns over tables and it turns lives around. As people of The Way, we are part of that movement,” she said. “Institution is what happens to a movement when it grows up. It creates a structure; it has meetings; it funds the structure; it exists to maintain order; it exists to perpetuate itself. It sometimes resists change and it is totally predictable.”

The church has become the institution, Wilson said, but “we are being called to find ourselves forward into the Jesus Movement, so that we exist to change people’s lives; moving, growing, expanding, challenging the status quo, causing revolutions and realizing that at the heart of every revolution is human kindness; turning tables and turning lives around.”

At the offertory, Curry received a number of gifts, including shells to remind him of the pilgrim’s journey, water to remind him of baptism and a miter as a reminder of the work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and even now. He also received vestments from the Liberian Episcopalians in the U.S., the ethnic missioners of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and from the Diocese of North Carolina where he had served for 15 years as bishop when he was elected as presiding bishop. The Episcopal Bishops of African Descent promised him a book of photos from the weekend. He also received gifts from the Episcopal Church of St. Simon of Cyrene in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, where he served as rector from 1982 to 1988.

About 1,700 people registered to attend the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration hosted by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of Bishop Michael B. Curry’s installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

About 1,700 people registered to attend the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration hosted by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of Bishop Michael B. Curry’s installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Retired Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan Baxter, UBE’s honorary national chairman, presented Jefferts Schori with a miter made of kente cloth to thank her for her “encouragement of our heritage” and as a “reminder that you also have soul.” And the entire staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society thanked Jefferts Schori for their work with her.

(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.)

Elected at General Convention
The House of Bishops elected Curry June 27 during General Convention on the first ballot. It was a landslide; he received 121 votes of a total 174 cast. The number of votes needed for election was 89. It was the first time the bishops had elected a presiding bishop on the first ballot.

Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith, Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal and Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas were the other nominees. 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.

It’s the second time in a row that the church will make history with its installation of a presiding bishop. In 2006, current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman 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. Jefferts Schori had been elected June 18, 2006 during the 75th meeting of General Convention.

The roles of the presiding bishop
The presiding bishop is chief pastor and primate 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.

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry sings during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration hosted by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. With him is the Rev. Christine L. McCloud, a deacon from the Diocese of Newark who served as his chaplain during the service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry sings during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration hosted by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. With him is the Rev. Christine L. McCloud, a deacon from the Diocese of Newark who served as his chaplain during the service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

According to Title I Section 2, the presiding bishop as chief pastor and primate 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, according to Title I Section 2.

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 chair and chief executive officer of the Executive Council, which is the board of directors for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, according to Canon I.4, and oversees the execution of the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and carried out by the Society.

The staff of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society report to the presiding bishop, who is the Society’s president, either directly or through a group of senior staff and officers who, according to canon, report and are accountable directly to the presiding bishop. (The office of the General Convention, by canon, maintains a separate reporting structure.)

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.”

Originally, 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. An interactive timeline about the presiding bishops is here.

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 Princeton Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University, the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary, and the Institute of Christian Jewish Studies.

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry distributes communion during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration offered by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael B. Curry distributes communion during the Oct. 31 Vigil Celebration offered by the Union of Black Episcopalians at the D.C. Armory on the eve of his installation as the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and its primate. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

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 many 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 website. In addition, Curry is a frequent speaker at conferences around the country. He has received honorary degrees from Sewanee: The University of the South, 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 most recent book, Songs My Grandma Sang, was published in June 2015. 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.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Bishop Michael Curry had been baptized at the Episcopal Church of St. Simon of Cyrene in Lincoln Heights, Ohio. He served as rector there from 1982 to 1988. He was baptized at St. Simon of Cyrene Church, Maywood, Illinois, on May 3, 1953.

Comments

  1. I have a problem with this. When ever I go to church, I do not notice any one with color. Nor anyone that has any ethnic background. I go to church with Episcopalians. And I know that God looks at us in the same way. Why then is there a Union of Black Episcopalians? If there were a Union of White Episcopalians, that just wouldn’t work, that would be racist. So instead of having these Unions, why don’t we all just be Episcopalians. Going to church and praying as sisters and brothers in Christ. Not bringing anything to the table but our hearts. There should be no color in church.

    • RA Garcia says:

      EXCELLENT REMARKS! Is this the best example of “a better union” in a higly divided church?

    • If you want to attend Mass with people of color, shop around. There are Hispanic, Igbu, Native American, Haitian, and other diverse congregations in the US. The Episcopal Church has changed over the years and most have open doors. I was only the second person of color in an upscale community church and was welcomed and confirmed there. The Union of Black Episcopalians formed to strengthen the presence of people of color in the church that had been ignored or been treated badly in some parishes. UBE is open to ANY member of the church. ANY member may attend meetings and conferences. There probably isn’t a call to begin a Union of White Episcopalians since your race is still in the majority, but I wish you well and would attend your meetings and conferences to support moving forward in reaching Godly equality. The Bishops and Deputies of the Church, most of which are still white, voted unanimously for Bishop Curry to be installed as Presiding Bishop and Prelate. May God unite all of us in a place where there is no need for separate congregations eliminate hesitation to respect the elected the new Prelate. He is a man of the Most High God.

  2. Van bolick says:

    I agree with with the previous comments. We are all one, not a group of this or that.

  3. Susan Townsend says:

    I respectfully submit that the majority culture in any place can not know or understand the experiences of those in the minority without extraordinary abilities to listen and to be empathetic. I would focus on both of these and then seek to learn why the Union of Black Episcopalians exists, and the needs it serves within the Episcopal Church. I am confident I will learn something important about our church and how to better serve God in all people.

  4. Norman Gaines says:

    I’d like to respond to Van Bolik, RA Garcia and Cathy Morris. First of all though, I’d like them to ask themselves, are you really an Episcopalian? If so, please ask yourself why this organization bothers you.

    That said I respond: did you watch the investiture? Did you notice that Native Americans, Jews, Muslims and Latinos all participated AND did so in their proper languages? Did it “bother” you that it wasn’t all in English? If so. why? Why shouldn’t gay, black, female or any other group of Episcopalians unite in their faith and common interests to strengthen our Church? And by the way, I am sure the Black Episcopalians would welcome you, Cathy, should you ask to join. The “better union” was spoken of by the Bishop himself, and I hope you all got the message. As for “not noticing any one with color”, I am sure said people if they are in your flock would thank you but request that you actually see them as who they are, and not as you wish to ignore them together. Our strength as Episcopalians is that we RECOGNIZE the differences, but never let them BE a difference. That’s why we’re different; because being different doesn’t keep you from sharing our faith or our community. So, speaking as a lifelong Episcopalian, I’d advise putting your time into something with a better payoff than calling out your fellow members, and in the spirit of all that is being an American Episcopalian, lighten up…..

    • Pat Gionet says:

      Norman, thank you for a wonderful explanation and opinion.

      I belong to The Episcopal Church and I cannot imagine being anywhere else; for the MOST part, this church is accepting and can recognize differences without MAKING them differences—or as the T Shirt says, I love the Episcopal Church for many reasons, but among them is WE DON’T HATE. Another is that we “don’t have to check our brains at the door.”

      The church I consider home is also called a Black Episcopal Church. I am Caucasian. I have NEVER seen any reason to question why there are designations of “Black” that are celebrated within the church. We are indeed all Episcopalians, but we are also all different, with outward and inward similarities and differences…what often sets us apart from so many other churches is that we recognize that and still celebrate the differences.

      There was also a time in our history that a bishop of African American descent would have been unheard of, but he was elected overwhelmingly and I have heard nothing but absolutely wonderful things about him. I am overjoyed that he is our Presiding Bishop Elect and I look forward to even more spiritual growth within our church community.

  5. Robert Edward Dabney says:

    I have been a member of this church that I love so much since my baptism almost 60 years ago as an infant. Both my mother and her parents (who emigrated from Barbados) were lifelong Anglicans/Episcopalians.

    I first discovered the need to belong to a supportive community of persons within the church who understood and shared my journey in life and in faith when I was refused communion and asked to leave an Episcopal Church in Jackson MS during a business trip in the 1980s. Yes, the 80s…not the 40s. This was much to the amusement of the taxi driver who had picked me up at the hotel and asked me if I wanted him to wait for me when we arrived at the 11:00 a.m. service. “No I told him, just pick me up at around 12:30.” When I left at 12:00, he was still there…waiting. “I knew it,” he said.

    I can understand the position of those members of the Church who don’t see the need for a Union of Black Episcopalians. If you could walk in my shoes as a Black person worshiping in an overwhelmingly White church, you might empathize with my position. My membership in the Union served as the catalyst for me to remain faithful to a church that had turned its back on me.

    • Kathleen Whiting says:

      Dear Mr. Dabney,
      It breaks my heart to picture you being denied Holy Communion in the very city where Bishop John Allin had the courage and the integrity to march with all who believed in freedom and equality in the 1960s. I lived in Jackson from 1966 to 1970 and was proud to count myself among those Episcopalians who actively supported honoring all God’s children, under leadership that followed Christ’s path. Thank you for acting on the knowledge that your experience involved only one small aberration in this otherwise welcoming Church that we do love so well. As we all still struggle to find our footing – whatever our particular needs – it also behooves us to honor every personal support system that gives each of our diverse groups “the glue” we need to remain together joyously and faithfully.

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