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‘Needful for This New Time’

Exit Interview

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry weathered six hospitalizations in a year — three brain surgeries, a pacemaker, internal bleeding, removal of an adrenal gland. By late April, he had recovered enough to attend the last Executive Council meeting of his tenure — in Raleigh, North Carolina, just a few miles from his home. TLC’s Kirk Petersen caught up with him in a quiet meeting room. The interview has been edited and condensed.

Where do things stand now with your health?

Pretty good. I still have to go for a CT scan every other month for a little while. It seems the surgery has worked. It’s actually made a difference. And then the heart stuff — they just check the pacemaker. I haven’t been on an airplane with it yet. I have a little card that says you don’t go through the metal detector. I even had a root canal while all that was going on.

Always a pleasure.

Oh, yeah. The memory stuff comes. But the neurologist said it’s slow. Just let it be, let it go slow. I’ve been driving now, for two weeks.

The last time I spoke with you, I asked who you thought the next presiding bishop should be. I’m not going to ask you which of the five candidates you favor, but let me ask you this: What do you think the next presiding bishop is going to be faced with that will make his or her tenure different from yours?

I think I was elected to help the church to reclaim our faith in Jesus Christ — to see Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love as the defining paradigm for what it means to be a Christian, and to not be apologetic about that. So, I think they were looking for somebody who could give voice to that.

Each one of us has been elected for a particular moment. When Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected, the Holy Spirit knew we needed someone who was fearless, who could help this church find its courage, a gracious courage in a time of real turbulence. There were court battles going on, everything was kind of rocking and rolling.

Frank Griswold, we needed somebody who would take us beyond ourselves. Frank was brilliant. I mean, it was like a mystical primacy. It’s what we needed in a time when the church was really struggling over human sexuality. Frank was kind of like a 19th-century European diplomat.

Ed Browning was the one who finally named that this will be a church of no outcasts.

John Allin, he organized this church — probably the most effective organization ever on a churchwide level. They had the largest churchwide capital campaign. We still benefit from the endowments that were set up during that time.

John Hines was a prophetic kind of leader. If you look at pictures of the General Convention in the ’60s, it was all male, and mostly white, except for one or two. John Hines turned it upside down. A special General Convention was called, and he said in addition to deputies, bring minorities, young people, and women. And that was the end of the old paradigm and the beginning of a new one.

If you look at the pattern, each one of us has been called for a particular time and moment in the life of the church.

Here’s how I’ve got it organized in my mind, in terms of progression. Katharine Jefferts Schori, she had to be sort of the Iron Lady. She went through the wars. You came in wanting to refocus on Jesus, and on evangelism, and on reconciliation.

Then what comes next, in my mind, is helping the church gracefully decline. Because I don’t think the numbers are going to reverse themselves.

Oh, the numbers aren’t going to reverse themselves. Another way to say it is, helping the church to be transformed for the age in which it is, which has happened in Christian history before.

Jesus is Lord, and that ain’t changing. God is still God, that ain’t changing. The Spirit is still the Spirit. The faith isn’t changing — but how that faith gets transmitted and lived out and organized, that’s changing for this age. What worked in the 1950s doesn’t necessarily work today. So why have that as an expectation of what the church should be? It served in its time.

The mission goes on, but how we organize ourselves for it, on a churchwide basis, and at the diocese, and in a local congregation, that’s all going to change. And so we will elect the presiding bishop that’s needful for this new time. I don’t know who’s it’s going to be, but they’re all great.

Who are you going to vote for?

Aaaaarrrgh.

I wanted to ask you about the royal wedding. You said at one point that people would stop you in the airport.

Yeah. Ripple effects are still there. It comes up wherever I go to speak somewhere. Immediately after the wedding, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me saying, “I didn’t know that Christianity was about love.” That was stunning. That blew me away. My God, we have been missing the mark. So, the wedding gave me an opportunity to help reframe.

Any final thoughts?

I’ve been really blessed to be Presiding Bishop of this church. I mean, when I started out, I just wanted to be a parish priest. Having been sick for a little while, I’m really humbled, really humbled.

There’s a goodness here. A welcome. I mean, I met a man after a diocesan convention. This was early in my time. And he got up and he had tears in his eyes. He said, “I just wanted to come out and tell you how glad I am that you’re my brother.” I said, “Tell me more about that.”

He grew up in Florida — I don’t remember where. But his family was involved with the Klan. And he moved to Arkansas, and ended up at this little bitty Episcopal church somewhere in Arkansas. And he said they were just so sweet. He said, “I grew up with a gospel of hate. They taught me a gospel of love. And I’m not going back.”

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