THE first black Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States has been installed, succeeding its first woman Presiding Bishop.
The new Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry (above), the former Bishop of North Carolina, was installed in an All Saints’ Day service at Washington National Cathedral.
He was elected the 27th Presiding Bishop, to succeed Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, in a landslide vote earlier this year (News, 3 July).
He began his sermon to the congregation of 2500 by acknowledging the difficulties that faced the Episcopal Church, which has suffered a widespread and sharp decline in numbers in recent years.
"It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith. Churches, religious communities, and institutions are being profoundly challenged. You don’t need me to tell you that," he said.
One of the first challenges for the Church was to "embrace serious work of racial reconciliation", which was "just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realises justice across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God".
He acknowledged that such work was "difficult work, but we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing. It’s about God.
"It is as the Jesus movement, following Jesus’s way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions, and with brothers and sisters who may be atheist or agnostic or just on a journey, but who long for a better world where children do not starve and where there is, as the old spiritual says, ‘plenty good room for all of God’s children’."
He told of his parents’ experience when they attended a eucharist in an Episcopal church when there was still segregation, and found themselves the only people of colour there. He described how, as his mother went forward to receive communion, his father watched to see if white parishioners would drink from the same chalice as a black woman.
Bishop Curry said: "He was dumbfounded. Years later, he would say he joined the Episcopal Church because he really hadn’t imagined that could happen in America. He said, ‘Any church where blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the gospel I want to be a part of.’"
The Bishop continued: "God has not given up; and, if God has not given up on this world, we dare not give up on it, either. And God is not finished with this Church, and God has work for us to do. Jesus has shown us the way, and we are the Jesus movement; so, my brothers and sisters, walk together, children!"
Music for the three-hour service included drumming and singing by the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians of Maryland, who led the 155 bishops of the Episcopal Church into the service. The Church of England was represented by the Bishop-designate of Newcastle, the Ven. Christine Hardman.
Born in Chicago, Bishop Curry was ordained 37 years ago. He has also been outspoken on racial and gender equality, and has supported LGBT rights and gay marriage.