Presiding bishop returns from surgery, chairs Executive Council meeting confronting violence, division, change

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 25, 2023
Curry speaks

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gives opening remarks Oct. 25 during the first plenary session of Executive Council’s four-day online meeting.

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, recovering from a Sept. 20 surgery, returned as chair of Executive Council on Oct. 25 at its meeting this week, after missing its last meeting in June. In his opening remarks, he said that he was “profoundly grateful” for the overwhelming support and prayers from across the church and beyond.

“Thank you is hardly an adequate word, but please receive it in the full spirit: Thank you,” Curry said in the Zoom meeting, which was livestreamed publicly on YouTube.

In the month since his surgery to remove an adrenal gland and a non-cancerous attached mass, “I don’t think that I have ever been prayed for more,” the presiding bishop said. Curry then expanded on the theme of prayer and its importance in a world torn by violence and division – and within an Episcopal Church undergoing profound changes of decline and rebirth.

“Even as we speak, there is conflict, division and great suffering in Israel and Gaza, in Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Ukraine, Armenia and Haiti,” he said. “Prayer matters and makes a difference. We must pray, for wisdom and moral courage, for world leaders, so that violence does not beget more violence.

“Because violence does not work and violence will not bring about a just and sustainable and enduring peace — shalom, salaam — violence will not get us there.”

His remarks also served to highlight some of the themes of this Oct. 24-27 meeting of Executive Council and the resolutions that its committees will be recommending for final approval at the end of the meeting. Those proposed resolutions include statements on the war between Israel and Hamas, an intensifying humanitarian conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and an arson in Arizona that destroyed an Episcopal church, which prosecutors have charged as a hate crime.

Council also will consider a resolution to establish a committee to research The Episcopal Church’s past complicity with the practice of forced adoptions by unwed mothers, an era roughly from the end of World War II to the early 1970s. The 80th General Convention first passed a resolution in July 2022 calling attention to the issue.

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris emphasized other focal points of Executive Council’s ongoing work in her opening remarks, including church data that points to both long-term membership decline and new opportunities for discipleship and Christian witness. The Episcopal Church is in a “transitional space,” she said.

“We find ourselves between where we are as a church and where we hope to be, between what is and what will become,” Ayala Harris said. “While the present may feel disordered, God is not done with us yet. New life will emerge, new challenges will greet tomorrow.”

Ayala Harris also alluded briefly to her Aug. 30 letter to the House of Deputies. It revealed she had been the complainant in a disciplinary case against an Episcopal bishop under the church’s Title IV canons, a case that ended with no discipline for the bishop, who denied the allegations.

“If this could happen to the president of the House of Deputies, it could happen to anyone anywhere,” she said. “It’s clear that systemic change is needed, both within our structures and in culture.”

Ayala Harris speaks

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris speaks Oct. 25 in the online plenary session of Executive Council.

After the close of the investigation, she and Curry each responded by recommending that the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons revisit the Title IV canons, amid growing churchwide scrutiny of several cases involving bishops. After the commission’s latest meeting, earlier this month, it issued a churchwide call for input as it prepares to propose Title IV changes for consideration in June 2024 at the 81st General Convention.

Curry, as presiding bishop, chairs Executive Council, which is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. Ayala Harris, as House of Deputies president, typically serves as vice chair, though she chaired Executive Council’s last meeting, held in June 2023 in Providence, Rhode Island, while Curry remained home on doctor-recommended travel restrictions.

This week’s meeting of Executive Council initially was planned to take place in person in Panama City, Panama, but it was moved online to accommodate Curry’s recovery from surgery.

Executive Council’s other 38 voting members are a mix of bishops, other clergy and lay leaders. Twenty are elected by General Convention to staggered six-year terms – or 10 new members every three years. The Episcopal Church’s nine provinces elect the other 18 to six-year terms, also staggered. Meetings typically are held three times a year.

Committees began meeting Oct. 24, and the first plenary session was held Oct. 25. The second half of the opening plenary was set aside for a discussion of the written norms and expectations that the governing body’s members agreed in June to follow. Ayala Harris noted that those norms include treating each other with respect, challenging ideas rather than individuals, and assuming positive intent in fellow members words and actions.

The members’ discussion, however, was moved into closed session with little explanation. After nearly an hour, the plenary adjourned without Executive Council appearing again on the meeting’s public livestream.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at