The Reverend Sandy Webb is blogging from General Convention in Salt Lake City.
When the amateur musician plucks out a melody line for a hymn in the key of C major, she uses only the piano’s white keys. Lovely melodies can be found in C major, but no one key could ever capture the fullness of our hymnody. I remembered this little bit of music theory on Saturday morning, shortly after the House of Bishops were excused from daily worship to go and elect its new president, the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The bishops’ custom is to be sequestered in a church building when they elect the primate, and they did not have time to navigate the crowds on their way to St. Mark’s Cathedral immediately after worship. At the end of the service, the assembly sat in silence for about a minute. When the ethereal yet earthy tones of a Native American flutist began to waft across the room, the bishops left for their private place. It was more of an exodus than a procession – each bishop left from her own seat and simply walked out of the room. Then, we were alone.
As it was in 2006 when we elected Bishop Jefferts Schori, the General Convention’s mood changed when the bishops were excused. We are not used to their absence. Much to the Episcopal Church’s credit, over the last several decades it has become progressively less common for any one of the four orders of ministry – laypeople, bishops, priests and deacons – to operate in isolation from the others. It was as if half the keys had been removed from our piano; there was still music to be made, but we were limited. It was hardly the same. Those of us left behind wondered what the bishops would decide, and even when we would hear back.
What distinguished the 2015 election from the 2006 election was the presence of a favored candidate. In 2006, we wondered whom the bishops would choose. In 2015, we wondered if they would choose Michael Curry, the popular and dynamic Bishop of North Carolina who is widely recognized as one of the Episcopal Church’s strongest preachers.
Business proceeded at the Salt Palace Convention Center, but the mystery and significance of the moment permeated every conversation. When word of an election came quickly, most of us concluded that the anticipated candidate had won the day, but the name was not announced immediately. We waited for more than an hour as the House of Deputies engaged their canonical process, and cheered with abandon when Bishop Curry’s name was announced and confirmation immediately given.
Shortly thereafter, the House of Deputies’ gallery began to fill. Everyone wanted to witness Bishop Curry’s first remarks as Presiding Bishop-elect. Slowly, purple shirts (the distinctive uniform of a bishop) began to dot the crowd. They entered just as they had exited, with neither procession nor fanfare, and the mood changed with their return. We were complete again. Our piano had all of its keys.
The image of white keys and black keys making music together is especially relevant because Bishop Curry will be the first African American to serve as Presiding Bishop. We will never know which bishops voted for which candidates, but the wide margin by which Bishop Curry was elected on the first ballot is indicative of his widespread support. This remarkable day would not have been possible without a diverse community of bishops and deputies working together to discern a shared vision for the future of the Episcopal Church – black and white, male and female, liberal and conservative, Episcopalians all.
Bishop Curry’s initial remarks echoed this theme, paraphrasing Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "By himself, God won’t. By ourselves, we can’t. But, together with God, we can and we will."
Video of Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry being introduced to the House of Deputies here.
Photo of Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry by Deputy Margaret McLarty from Mississippi.