North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry will be installed next month as the new head of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
Curry was elected to the post in June in a landslide vote at the Episcopal General Convention. He will succeed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was the first female presiding bishop and the first woman to lead an Anglican national church. He will be installed Nov. 1 in a service at the Washington National Cathedral, the day Schori completes her nine-year term.
Bishop Curry, 62, has led a diocese of 48,000 church members, 112 congregations and a network of ministries in North Carolina since 2000.
“We’ve got a society where there are challenges before us,” Curry said in a press conference after his historic election this summer. “We know that. And there are crises all around us. And the church has challenges before us. We are part of the Jesus movement, and nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”
In a recent interview in the Charlotte Observer, Curry said he wants to preside over a welcoming church open to all people – including gay couples and opponents of same-sex marriage.
Marriage is now open to all in the Episcopal Church. But no clergy opposed to same-sex marriage will be compelled to act against his or her conscience by performing one.
“We respect conscience, just as we respect and honor gays and lesbians who wish to receive the holy sacrament of matrimony,” Curry said. “That’s a church that’s working to be, as Jesus said, quoting the prophets, ‘a house of prayer for all people.’ We’re making room for all.”
Curry, a Chicago native who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Yale Divinity School, is the author of “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus.
He said the Episcopal Church will continue to focus on racial reconciliation – many of its early members were slave owners – but also wants to encourage relationships between those separated by class, religion, sexual orientation and politics.
“We are a segregated society (in many ways). And the way to break segregation is you’ve got to create bridges between communities and ways for people to come together,” Curry said. “Then they encounter each other and get to know each other and maybe love each other.”
He will assume his new role at a time when, according to polls, the number of Americans with no religious affiliation – the “Nones” – is on the rise. And the decline in the number of churchgoers is especially pronounced among mainline Christian churches, including the Episcopal Church, whose membership has dropped 18 percent over the last decade.
But Curry said the public’s enthusiastic response to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States suggests there is a spiritual hunger.
“That is the message that will bring people back,” he said. “And the more we embody it … as a church, I suspect that there are people who will actually take note.”