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Episcopal Church elects first black leader

Bishop Michael Curry, of North Carolina, is the first African-American presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Episcopal Church elected its first African-American presiding bishop, choosing Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina during the denomination’s national assembly Saturday.

Curry was elected in a vote by bishops at the Episcopal General Convention, the top legislative body of the church. Curry won in a landslide, earning 121 votes. The other three candidates had 21 votes or fewer. The decision was affirmed on a vote of 800 to 12 by the House of Deputies, the voting body of clergy and lay participants at the meeting.

Curry will succeed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who will complete her nine-year term Nov. 1. She was the first female presiding bishop and the first woman to lead an Anglican national church. The New York-based Episcopal Church is the US body of the Anglican Communion, an 80-million-member worldwide fellowship of churches with roots in the Church of England.


Curry, 62, has been bishop of North Carolina since 2000, leading a diocese of 48,000 church members, 112 congregations, and a network of ministries. He will now lead a nearly 1.9 million-member denomination known for its history as the faith home of many Founding Fathers and US presidents.

A Chicago native who has two daughters with his wife Sharon, Curry grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Hobart College and Yale Divinity School. He was ordained a priest in North Carolina, leading parishes there and in Ohio. He then served for 12 years at St. James Church in Baltimore, Md.,established in 1824 as the third black Episcopal congregation in the United States.

Curry is known for his emphasis on evangelism, public service, and social justice.

Author of “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus,” he calls for “a church passionately committed to making disciples.”

“At a deep level I am suggesting a church-wide spiritual revival of the Christian faith in the Episcopal way of being disciples of Jesus,” Curry said in the church materials introducing the candidates.


He takes charge at a time when fewer Americans are formally affiliating with a particular religious group, contributing to steady membership declines in the Episcopal Church and other liberal Protestant groups, as well as some conservative churches.

Membership in the Episcopal Church has dropped by 18 percent over the last decade. This week, the General Convention will consider restructuring church bodies and redirecting spending to more effectively reach out to the public.

Curry supports gay rights and opposed North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. The denomination emerged from a period of turmoil after the 2003 election of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. Many Episcopal conservatives left or distanced themselves from the national church after his election.

This week, the convention will vote on eliminating gender-specific language from church laws on marriage so religious weddings can also be performed for same-sex couples. Clergy could decline to perform the ceremonies. Right now, each bishop decides whether his or her priests can conduct gay marriages.