SALT LAKE CITY — Episcopal bishops have made history again.
On Saturday (June 27), during a private meeting at St. Mark’s Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City, they elected Bishop Michael Curry as the first African-American presiding bishop of the 2.5 million-member faith.
Curry won in a landslide vote in a race against three other candidates. The vote came nearly a decade after the bishops chose their first female leader.
Leading up to Saturday’s selection, Curry who has served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina since 2000, said he envisioned a church committed to being part of the “Jesus movement.” He said he would focus on evangelism and acts of service, along with a “churchwide spiritual revival.”
While he must lead and tend to day-to-day functions as the faith’s chief executive officer, Curry said his job is more than that.
“In this mission moment of the church’s life,” he said, “the primary role of the presiding bishop must be CEO in another sense: Chief Evangelism Officer, to encourage, inspire and support us all to claim the calling of the Jesus movement.”
Curry, 62, spent 12 years as rector of St. James Church in Baltimore before his election as bishop of the N.C. Diocese. He and his wife, Sharon, have two grown daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth.
He will succeed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the faith’s first female presiding bishop, who completes her nine-year term Nov. 1.
The U.S. Episcopal Church is a branch of the 80 million-member Anglican Communion, with churches across the globe and its origins in the Church of England.
About 9,000 people have come to Salt Lake City for the Episcopal General Convention, held every three years, where leaders and lay followers vote on proposals about the direction for the church.
On Friday, the convention reportedly erupted into applause when the Supreme Court’s ruling was announced legalizing same-sex marriage across the U.S. The Episcopal Church has advocated for equal rights for gays and lesbians since 1976.
Curry has been a supporter of LGBT rights and was among the first group of bishops to allow same-sex marriages to be performed among the NC diocese’s 112 congregations.
Outspoken on social issues, including race and gender issues, he has spoken out at Moral Monday demonstrations in Raleigh, the state capital, challenging local and state governments to lift up the poor and marginalized.
But he may be best known for his energetic African-American preaching style that mixes a down-home flavor with a distinct emphasis on what he calls “radical hospitality” and the Christian message of God’s grace and love.
“He talks about being called to be relationship with God that’s not just about your own personal piety, but about changing people’s lives and changing the world for the good,” said the Rev. Jim Melnyk, president of the N.C. diocese’s standing committee and rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, N.C.
A Chicago native, Curry graduated from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y., and received a masters of divinity from Yale Divinity School.
Melnyk said Curry will be known as a bridge-builder who recognizes that people may not always agree.
“Rather than being divided by people who differ, he believes we’re called to love one another and work together to transform the world,” Melnyk said.
(Yonat Shimron contributed to this report.)
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