Michael B. Curry said he is minding the orders of “the medical folk” after his health scare.
By Kirk Petersen
In his first public comments since being hospitalized briefly for internal bleeding and a heart condition, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry told Executive Council in a recorded video that “I am obeying the medical folk who are guiding me through this time, taking the myriad of tests and the numerous visits and doing everything that I should do.”
Curry’s three minutes of remarks injected a sense of reassurance into the meeting room at the Graduate Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, where the council is holding its thrice-yearly meeting June 12 to 15. Several council members agreed later that the 70-year-old presiding bishop’s voice and demeanor betrayed no sign of the health scare he experienced just two weeks earlier.
“I’ve joked in the past that it’s always hard to follow the presiding bishop at these meetings,” said President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris, who also serves as vice chair of the Executive Council. “And yet today, I so wish that he were here with us in person. I miss his prayerful and catalyzing presence among us.”
The Church Center announced June 8 that Curry was canceling all air travel through at least the end of June.
Ayala Harris set the tone for the meeting by talking about scarcity and abundance in what amounted to a homily.
The Episcopal Church is “being called to let go of our scarcity mindset and embrace the abundant blessings that the Holy Spirit has given us,” she said. “At the churchwide level, we sometimes talk too much about numbers, numbers of people in the pews, and not enough about the fruit of our ministries.”
And yet the church has always taken the numbers seriously. The Rev. Molly James, deputy executive officer of the General Convention, reminded the group that the church has been gathering statistics through the annual parochial report for more than a century.
“We are declining, in that we have fewer parishes and fewer people,” James said. “The one-priest, one-parish model stopped being sustainable some time ago,” she said in a committee meeting later in the day, noting that two-thirds of the church’s 6,300 congregations have average Sunday attendance of fewer than 50 people.
And yet the church is financially healthy. “This time of decline can be an opportunity for transformation, particularly because we have such tremendous resources — financial, material and human — to meet the needs of communities in which we are already present and those in which we don’t yet have an Episcopal presence.”
There is less than a year and a half left of Curry’s nine-year term, and the council increasingly is focusing on issues with an eye toward the next presiding bishop, who will be elected at General Convention in June 2024.
One of those issues will be what to do with “815,” the church’s headquarters building at 815 Second Avenue in Manhattan. The council’s governance and operations committee began a discussion on the topic that is expected to continue for several years.
The building sits on valuable real estate near the United Nations, and parts of it are empty because of the loss of a tenant and the increase in employees working remotely — a trend that was well under way before the pandemic and has been turbocharged during it. Yet the church owns the building outright, and thus pays no rent.
Later in the week, the council is expected to pass a resolution denouncing the Anglican Church of Uganda’s support for most provisions of that country’s draconian new “Anti-Homosexuality Act,” which permits the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” The Ugandan church reiterated its opposition to capital punishment, favoring life imprisonment instead.