African-American evangelist to be US Presiding Bishop

03 July 2015

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Messenger: the Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt Revd Michael Curry (centre), joins a rally to urge people of faith to help curtail gun violence, during the General Convention in Salt Lake City, on Sunday

Messenger: the Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt Revd Michael Curry (centre), joins a rally to urge people of faith to help curtail gun violence, durin...

THE General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States has elected an evangelist, the Bishop of North Carolina, as its next Presiding Bishop.

The Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, will become the first African American to hold the position when he succeeds Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, at a service in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, on 1 November.

Bishop Curry served in parishes in North Carolina, Ohio, and Maryland, before being consecrated bishop in 2000. Among the parishes he served as a priest is St James's, Baltimore, which was established in 1824 as the Episcopal Church's third church to serve a black congregation.

"I pray for a Church passionately committed to making disciples who follow in the way of Jesus of Nazareth in the Episcopal tradition, and who, in so doing, participate in the realisation of the dream of God for this world," he told delegates before the election.

"A Church like that will really be a house of prayer for all people. The face of a Church like that will reflect the faces of all the peoples of our lands, in all our wondrous God-given variety. A Church like that will be truly Catholic. A Church like that will bear witness by its very life to the unconquerable love of God we know in Jesus.

"That Church will proclaim the word of God with power, evangelise as much by listening as by sharing, embody hospitality with authenticity, serve, witness, and prophesy deliverance in our local and global societies. The discipleship of a Church like that will truly follow in the way of Jesus of Nazareth and make a transformative difference in this world. That's the Church I pray for."

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is chosen by the House of Bishops in an election that has to be ratified by the House of Deputies - the clergy and lay people at the General Convention.

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Bishop Curry received 121 out of 174 votes in the House of Bishops. It is the first time that the Presiding Bishop has been elected in the first ballot. Their choice was affirmed in the House of Deputies: 800 voted in favour, and 12 against.

"Everybody knows I really do take evangelism seriously, and discipleship, and witness, and service, and social advocacy - the gospel principles that we hold," he told a press conference after the election.

"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. . .

"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, churchwide, will have impact for reaching people who are not automatically coming to our doors."

But when asked whether he was an Evangelical, Bishop Curry refused to be pigeonholed. "I think it's fair to say that I am a follower of Jesus," he replied.

One of the Presiding Bishop-elect's first tasks was to hold a meeting with the budget committee of the Episcopal Church as it finalises the Church's spending priorities for the next three years.

During the meeting, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports, he urged members of the committee to "put Jesus up front" as they considered changes to the draft budget.

"I talk of the Jesus movement, of evangelism, of making disciples, and our witness through public service and public advocacy," he told them. "That can sound like rhetoric that has no actual consequence, but let me assure you . . . we are talking about the Church moving forth, taking evangelism seriously - in the Episcopal way, but taking them for real because there is good news to share. There really is. . .

"Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front. Put forming our people as followers of Jesus - as disciples for real - at the front of it.

"And then put inspiring and enabling them to serve in their personal lives, and for us to witness in the public square, in the front. That's the Church; that's the movement. I know full well that movements can float off into the air if they are not incarnated in reality."

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Welby concerned at canon change

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his "deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion" after the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States voted to approve changes to its marriage canon which would allow the clergy to solemnise same-sex marriages.

The changes are being debated at the Church's General Convention in Salt Lake City. They introduce gender-neutral language to the canon, and remove any reference to marriage as being something between a man and a woman ( News, 19 June).

The US House of Bishops approved the proposals on Monday, and the matter will now move to the House of Deputies, which includes clergy and laity.

Lambeth Palace said in a statement: "While recognising the prerogative of the Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some, and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

"He urges prayer for the life of the Anglican Communion; for a space for the strengthening of the interdependent relationships between provinces, so that . . . Anglicans may be a force for peace, and seek to respond to the Lord Jesus' prayer that 'they may be one so that the world may believe'," the statement said.

Just days after the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was lawful across America, the House of Bishops approved two new marriage liturgies for same-sex weddings. If ratified by the House of Deputies, the new services will be available for use by parishes from Advent if approved by the diocesan bishop.

The resolution approved by the House of Bishops says that the Convention honours the Church's "theological diversity . . . in regard to matters of human sexuality", and that "no bishop, priest, deacon, or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner . . . as a result of his or her theological objection to, or support for", the new same-sex marriage rites.

The Presiding Bishop-Elect is a supporter of same-sex marriage. He had previously spoken out against North Carolina's 2012 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage - a move that has been rendered invalid by last week's Supreme Court judgment.

At a press conference after his election, he welcomed the Supreme Court judgment. "The Supreme Court affirmed the authenticity of love. We're in the business of love," he said.

"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."

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