By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
In his first 24 hours as presiding bishop-elect, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina wasted no time introducing himself as a passionate preacher and evangelist who readily cites Scripture even when he’s far from the pulpit.
And Episcopalians gathered at General Convention have been just as quick to give their next leader a solid amen.
In addressing the press Saturday, Bishop Curry quoted from the Bible in answering question after question. He noted how Jesus demanded that the temple be a house of prayer, how dry bones came to life in Ezekiel, and how first-century believers did not expect people to come to them but went out to where the people were.
“It’s a challenging time, it’s an exciting time, but the church has been here — read the Acts of the Apostles,” Curry said. “It’s in the Bible. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.”
Then early Sunday morning, Curry capped an anti-gun violence rally with a glimpse of his exuberant preaching style, rooted in the African-American churches of the diocese where he has been bishop for 15 years. His voice boomed over the outdoor loudspeakers to the point that he could have awakened anyone sleeping blocks away at 8:20 a.m.
“We must be about the business of the Holy Trinity,” he said. “We must be about the business of the Jesus who came and taught us.
“You have heard that it was said that life is cheap,” he said in a style similar to one of his heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. “You have heard that it was said that violence is the way. You have heard that it was said that racism is okay. You have heard that it was said that poverty doesn’t matter, but I say unto you, ‘Love your enemy!’” The crowd of 1,500 cheered.
Curry’s style marks a radical break from that of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, an oceanographer who speaks in measured tones and sticks to texts when preaching. His passion, style, and commitment to spiritual renewal are what the church needs now, according to bishops and deputies.
In the Episcopal Church, “we tend to be more intellectual than we should be,” said Southeast Florida Bishop Leopold Frade. “His will be a different style: unashamedly a proclaimer of Christ. It’s very important to, let’s say, be more out of our shell.”
Curry’s election made history in two respects. He’s the first African-American elected to lead the Episcopal Church, and he’s the first bishop elected in the first round of House of Bishops voting. He won overwhelmingly with 79 percent of the bishops’ vote and 98 percent of the deputies’ vote.
“We need to rebuild. We need to heal,” said Mark Laubach, a deputy from the Diocese of Bethlehem and organist/choirmaster at St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre. “I get the sense that he’s a person who can do that — can keep us focused on the important things.”
Image: Bishop Curry preaches during the Bishops Against Gun Violence rally. • Matthew Townsend photo