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Episcopal Church elects first black presiding bishop

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Episcopal Church has elected its first black presiding bishop and primate.

The Rt. Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for the past 15 years, was overwhelmingly elected the church's 27th presiding bishop Saturday during its 78th General Convention underway in Salt Lake City.

The Rt. Rev. Curry, 62, described himself as "a follower of Jesus. I'm not a perfect one, but I want to be one of his disciples," he said at news conference late Saturday afternoon.

"I just look forward to serving and working for the cause of the Jesus movement in the world, to help this become a transformed world that I like to say looks more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare," he said.

The selection of a new presiding bishop is among the highlights of the faith's General Convention. The Rt. Rev. Curry will succeed the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who did not seek a second term.

As for the significance of being the first black elected presiding bishop, the Rt. Rev. Curry said he reflected on the Most. Rev. Jefferts Schori's election as the church's first female presiding bishop.

"I remember just realizing it was an experience of the Holy Spirit, for real," he said.

"Today, I had that same feeling. I think that's a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and of the movement of God's spirit in our world."

The bishop-elect will be officially welcomed at a Eucharist service on Friday, the concluding day of the church's nine-day convention.

The Rt. Rev. Curry also remarked on the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that same-sex couples nationwide have a constitutional right to marry.

"The affirmation of love is not the language of legal jurisprudence, but that is what the Supreme Court did. It affirmed the authenticity of love. We're in the business of love. Actually, there is a hymn that says, 'Where true love is found, God himself is there.'"

The Episcopal Church, through its legislative process, is reviewing its theology on marriage during its convention.

"The reality is, now for us, the issues are marriage. How do we make marriage fulsome and wholesome for all, not gay marriage or heterosexual marriage, just marriage?" he said.

The Rt. Rev. Curry was ordained into the priesthood in 1976. He was elected the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina on Feb. 11, 2000, and consecrated on June 17, 2000, in Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University, according to the diocese website.

Throughout his ministry, the Rt. Rev. Curry has also been active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality, the diocese website states.

He "refocused the diocese on the Episcopal Church’s Millennium Development Goals through a $400,000 campaign to buy malaria nets that saved over 100,000 lives," the website states.

The Rt. Rev. Curry and his wife, Sharon, have two adult daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth.

The Rt. Rev. Curry earned an undergraduate degree from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, in 1975, and a Master of Divinity degree in 1978 from Yale University Divinity School. The Rt. Rev. Curry has also studied at the College of Preachers, Princeton Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University, the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary, and the Institute of Christian Jewish Studies.

Late Saturday morning, Episcopal bishops were bused from the Salt Palace Convention Center to the Cathedral of St. Mark, where they met privately to select the faith's 27th Presiding Bishop.

The Rt. Rev. Curry was elected on the bishops' first ballot, which the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori said was also a first for the chuch. All bishops, serving or retired, are eligible to vote.

Afterward, their selection was communicated to the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, where a legislative committee addressed the confirmation. Then, the House of Deputies, more than 800 clergy and lay people representing their respective dioceses, voted overwhelmingly to confirm the Rt. Rev. Curry as presiding bishop. Afterward, they rose to their feet, cheered and briefly broke into song.

"It was a major mandate in the House of Bishops, and I think it was echoed in the House of Deputies. Bishop Curry will come into office in November at a time the church very much needs his gifts and his concerns," the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori said.

The two bishops were in the same "class" of bishops, meaning they were consecrated the same year. The Most Rev. Jefferts Schori said it was the first time two bishops from the same class have been elected as presiding bishop.

She said the two were longtime friends and she was "grateful and, frankly, thankful" the Rt. Rev. Curry had been elected her successor.

The Episcopal Church is gathered in Salt Lake City at the invitation of Episcopal Diocese of Utah and its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi.

As the church's triennial convention got underway Thursday, the Most Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church is in 17 countries from Taiwan to Europe and as far north as Alaska to the northern part of South America. There are about 2 million active, baptized members of the church.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com