Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says he’s ‘reasonably back to normal’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 26, 2016
Episcopal Church Executive Council members and staff listen as Treasurer N. Kurt Barnes, right podium, discussed budget matters. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is at the left podium. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Episcopal Church Executive Council members and staff listen as Treasurer N. Kurt Barnes, right podium, discusses budget matters. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is at the left podium. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Fort Worth, Texas] The Episcopal Church Executive Council began its Feb. 26-28 meeting by hearing some good news about the health of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Curry, who had surgery for a subdural hematoma and spent six days in the hospital in early December, told council members that he is now “reasonably back to normal … I think I am back about 90 percent.”

“Some brain processes are a little slower than they were before,” he added, saying that he has one more speech therapy session, work that is as much cognitive as it is speech therapy.

“I’m coming along and feeling very good,” he said.

Curry is preaching again but “I don’t stray as far away from manuscript as I normally would do, but they say that will come back.”

He has one more CAT scan and a three-hour neuropsychological work-up “to finish up everything.”

A subdural hematoma is usually caused by a head injury strong enough to burst blood vessels, which can then cause pooled blood to push on the brain. Curry said the doctors determined that a fall he took on the morning of his Nov. 1 installation as presiding bishop caused the hematoma, although at the time he did not know he had injured himself that seriously.

Curry said he had been to the gym and was running across the street from a Starbucks back to his hotel in Washington, D.C. when he tripped over a curb, hit his head and scratched up his right arm. “I didn’t think twice about it, but they said the symptoms are delayed four or five weeks,” he said.

His injury became apparent on Dec. 6 while he was preaching at Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, Virginia, “when I couldn’t remember anything – everything was gone – but, being a preacher, I kept talking.”

Curry was taken to the hospital that same day. He said he was glad the symptoms did not manifest themselves on the day of his installation, calling it “a blessing for the church because had it not been delayed, imagine what the sermon would have been like on Nov. 1.”

“We thank God for a lot,” he said as council members joined in his laughter.

Curry’s remarks came during council’s opening plenary session at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, the council’s vice president, said during her opening remarks that council would hear at this meeting about the initial steps she, Curry and other leaders of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops have taken to begin “remaking our commitment to racial justice and reconciliation, and church planting, and towards supporting more effectively our Latino and Hispanic congregations.” The commitments were made in a series of resolutions passed by the 2015 meeting of General Convention.

Earlier this month those leaders met with several staff members and other leaders n the church to begin work on fulfilling the call of Resolution C019 to establish a churchwide response to systemic racial injustice.

“We have an enormous opportunity to be agents of justice and reconciliation. We had the mountaintop moments we needed to get going last summer at General Convention,” she told council. “And now we have the sacred responsibility to carry that commitment into the everyday work of leading the Episcopal Church. And we should know – we should really know – going into this work, that it will not always come naturally and will surely be a growing edge, especially for those of us who have lived and enjoyed white privilege.”

During their three-day meeting, the members of council will, among other actions, amend the 2016 annual budget to account for changes in revenue and expense forecasts since General Convention passed the 2016-2018 triennial budget in July. Treasurer N. Kurt Barnes walked the council through the preliminary results of the 2013-2015 triennium, giving them both good news and warnings, as he put it.

What Barnes called a “calculated budgetary surplus” of $8.5 million in the 2013-2015 triennium was already anticipated by council, which allocated it mainly to cover loans to dioceses and to its Economic Justice Loan Fund.

“There are calls all the time on our checking account and short-term investment account,” Barnes noted. He urged council to “be conscious as to what our assets are” when they are considering such “admirable requests.”

He also called for caution in terms of drawing from the church’s investment income. That income in 2015 declined by 1 percent and Barnes said the decline prompted him to warn council about continuing its recent pattern of drawing more from investment income than its normal 5 percent. The 2016-2018 budget is based in part on an effective 5.75 percent draw on investment income.

He said the council’s own investment committee thinks additional draws are “less than prudent and not sustainable over the long term.” Barnes urged council to remember the need “to preserve the future purchasing power of the trust funds.”

At the end of the opening plenary, council members moved into an executive session to receive “confidential briefings on personnel matters and media interactions,” according to the motion made by Jennings. On a previous version of the council’s draft agenda an item called “interacting with Press” was listed on the open portion of the agenda. The issue was moved into executive session without explanation.

Curry recently updated the church about the independent investigation he called for after placing three members of senior management on administrative leave in December. He made that decision while he was still in the hospital. Council last met in mid-November.

Curry had praised the churchwide staff during his opening remarks. “This has been a tough time for them as well as for all who have been involved,” he said, adding that the council would discuss the situation in executive session.

“While the staff and I are really just getting to know each other, I’m not simply impressed – I’ve been moved by them. These guys, they love our Lord, they love this church, they work hard. They’ve taken some body blows but they have kept on working,” he told the council. “You probably knew this already, but we have a remarkable group of people we call the staff of the Episcopal Church and I just look forward to nine years with them.”

The council then stood to applaud the staff.

Jennings echoed Curry on that score during her opening remarks, commending staffers “for the grace and forbearance you have shown during the ongoing investigation into matters that led to three staff members being placed on administrative leave.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be with staff at several meetings recently, and I am grateful for the considerate ways that you are working with each other and with volunteer leaders in the church to advance our common mission. Thank you for standing on the threshold with such courage.”

Council members spent the afternoon in committee meetings. The members will return to plenary on the morning of Feb. 27 before heading back into committees. On Feb. 28 those committees will each report to the full body, proposing resolutions for the full body to consider.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.