The air in the sprawling House of Deputies was thick with excitement as Committee 19 on the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop went to their task. President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings attempted a recess for lunch, and deputies said “no!” Neither lunch or business could sway this group from the business of the day – the confirmation of the man elected by his colleagues in the House of Bishops to be the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. When the announcement came that the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry had been confirmed, the excitement jumped a couple of notches higher. Lunch time was still not an option the deputies were willing to take. They would stand ‘at ease’ until Bishop Curry and his family arrived in the building, to be escorted to the podium by the deputation from the Diocese of North Carolina.
By the time the entourage made its way into the hall, the crowd had swelled far beyond the visitor areas, with people standing on chairs raising cameras and I pads to catch even a glimpse of the the man who had just walked into the pages of history books as the first African- American to lead this Church.
At his first media conference later this afternoon, Bishop Curry was asked by The Living Church to reflect on how he saw the significance of this election. He responded that he had seen Bishop Katherine Jeffert Schori’s election as the first female as a reflection of the Holy Spirit profoundly at work in the Church. He recalled that election, saying, ” I remember realizing that I was experiencing the Holy Spirit for real – and I had that same feeling today. That’s a sign of our church growing more deeply into the movement of God in the world.”
Excitement. Joy. Humor. Bishop Curry stated at one point that he sensed the houses of General Convention were ” happy houses” today. His humor and ready laugh surfaced repeatedly as reporters pressed for answers about reconciliation with the global south and financial issues around property litigation, with friendly reminders he was ” not on the job ” until Nov 1- following the gentle reminder that it was not yet his watch with a glimpse of the serious thinking on these and other challenges facing the church already points of focus.
In her introduction of Bishop Curry, as a friend since they came into the House of Bishops in the same class, Bishop Katherine stressed mandate by the House of Bishops and echoed by the vote of the House of Deputies. “The Church needs his gifts and concerns ” she stated
In his opening remarks, with members of his family and extended family seated on the front row of the audience, Bishop Curry spoke of how blessed he had been to serve as Bishop of North Carolina for the past 15 years, and spoke of his belief that there is a Jesus movement in the world which can help transform the world so that it is more like Gods dream than the nightmare. He emphasized his belief that leaders build on the foundation handed by the leader who came before, thanking Bishop Katherine for the good foundation she had built.
“I believe the Episcopal a Church has something to offer in the public square,” he told the media. He spoke of conversations around difficult issues of racism, poverty and economic disparity, pointing to the voice of the Christian community in Charleston ‘changing the narrative,’ and quoting Dr. King as right that we have been out here to “create the Beloved Community.”
“What do you want the average person in the pew to know about you?” A questioner asked.
The quick smile and laugh.
“That I’m a really nice guy.
That I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. And I’m not perfect.
That the way of God is a way of life, that sets us free, that takes us to places we wouldn’t go on our own. I strive to follow him. To reflect his love, justice and compassion.”
The question kept coming back: are you an evangelical?
The answer was consistent.
“I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Certainly many challenges of church and culture await the 27th Presiding Bishop. While many, as he said, will “evolve,” one thing it is clear we can count on: whatever the question, whatever the tone or implication behind it, we have called a preacher and teacher to this big job of being Presiding Bishop and Primate, and with every breath and every response there is a story to remind us of the call answered at our baptism. And recognizing the complexities of the job ahead, Michael Curry didn’t quite say of course I’ll keep doing those preaching missions, or I may not have time to do them as much.
He said: “Remember Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones? That was about preaching — calling the bones to life. I hope to continue a preaching ministry to encourage the church forward.”
It was a happy day.
Much to give thanks for:
The courageous , sustained leadership of the 26th Presiding Bishop.
The faithful response to the call to lead this church in this particular day and time by the Presiding Bishop- elect.
And the willingness to allow the church to discern among them by The Rt. Rev. Tom Breidenthal, the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, and the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith.
Thanks be to God!