Executive Council welcomes back presiding bishop, as outgoing members prepare to say goodbye

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 18, 2024
Michael Curry at Executive Council

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry addresses Executive Council on April 18 in a ballroom at the Hilton Raleigh North Hills hotel in North Carolina’s capital city. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Raleigh, North Carolina] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry received a rousing standing ovation April 18 from members of Executive Council, who were seeing him in person for the first time in more than a year after his recovery from a series of health complications.

“You have no idea how good you look,” Curry told his fellow Executive Council members as they gathered in a hotel ballroom in Curry’s home city for the opening plenary session.

Executive Council is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. The April 18-20 meeting is Executive Council’s last before the 81st General Convention convenes in June in Louisville, Kentucky. With Curry’s nine-year term as presiding bishop expiring this fall and half of Executive Council’s members concluding their six-year terms, Curry noted this is a time of transition for the church.

“And the transition is [occurring] in an uncertain time,” Curry said, for the United States and the world. “This great church of ours will sail forward, but not the way it has always sailed. That’s just the reality, and that’s OK.”

Change can be “fraught with possibility but also danger,” Curry said, but added he took comfort in the words of Moses to his people at a time when they faced an uncertain and potentially dangerous future: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the lord.”

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris welcomed Curry back with “joy and gratitude” in her opening remarks. “Your presence among us has been missed,” she said. In their roles as presiding officers, Curry serves as chair of Executive Council and Ayala Harris as vice chair, though Ayala Harris filled the role of chair for the council’s sessions that Curry was unable to attend while he received treatment and underwent surgery for an irregular heartbeat, a brain bleed and a non-cancerous mass on his adrenal gland.

Like Curry, Ayala Harris spoke of this as a time of transition and transformation, within the church and beyond. She lamented the violence that has gripped the Holy Land during the Israel-Hamas war, as well as the rise of anti-transgender policies implemented by some state governments in the United States.

“It is easy to feel overwhelmed,” Ayala Harris said, but Christians have the Holy Spirit as their guide. “While society breeds division, mistrust and a quest for power, we embody a different way of being, one grounded in love, in humility and in the steadfast commitment to our shared mission in Christ.” Members of the church, she added, can be “a transforming people” for a hurting world.

In addition to the two presiding officers, 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.

With few major issues on the agenda of this Executive Council meeting, saying goodbye will be one of the members’ the top orders of business. The following 19 members are concluding their terms on Executive Council this year: the Rev. Devon Anderson, Liza Anderson, the Rev. Lillian Davis-Wilson, the Rev. Patty Downing, the Rev. Cornelia Eaton, the Very Rev. M.E. Eccles, Blanca Echeverry, Alice Freeman, Polly Getz, the Rev. Angela Goodhouse, the Very Rev. Mark Goodman, Bishop Scott Hayashi, Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple, the Rev. Anne Kitch, Andrea McKellar, the Ven. Aaron Perkins, Diane Pollard, Rose Sconiers and Sarah Stonesifer Boylan.

Nine of those seats will be filled by the church’s regional provinces. The 81st General Convention will elect the remaining 10 – six lay leaders, two bishops and two other clergy members – from a slate of 22 nominees.

The slate of 22 nominees for Executive Council was released by the Joint Standing Committee on Nominations, for votes at the 81st General Convention in June.

This also is the last Executive Council meeting for the body’s secretary, the Rev. Michael Barlowe, who announced in January that he planned to retire as General Convention’s executive officer later this year. Curry and Ayala Harris released a letter to Executive Council last week outlining the process and timeline for recruiting and appointing Barlowe’s successor by February 2025.

Executive Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 7-11 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It will be the first meeting chaired by Curry’s successor, the church’s 28th presiding bishop, who is scheduled to be elected and confirmed at the 81st General Convention and will take office on Nov. 1.

The five presiding bishop nominees are Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York.

The nominees for 28th presiding bishop are, clockwise from top left, Bishop J. Scott Barker, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe and Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright.

Ayala Harris said the church will continue to draw inspiration from Curry, who led the Raleigh-based Diocese of North Carolina before his election as presiding bishop in 2015.

“His prophetic voice, his unifying presence, his unwavering commitment to love have been a beacon of hope, not only for our church but for the wider world,” Ayala Harris, and she joked that Curry likely has the distinction of being the only Episcopal bishop to have been parodied by “Saturday Night Live” – after his 2018 royal wedding sermon.

In other business, Executive Council is receiving an update on negotiations to possibly relocate The Episcopal Church Archives to the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin. That discussion was conducted April 18 in a closed session that reporters were not allowed to attend.

Executive Council also will consider a funding request from the Diocese of Cuba, as well as possible resolutions reacting to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the war in Ukraine and violence in Haiti. In addition to budget discussions, the Finance Committee is expected to recommend waivers for some dioceses that have said they are unable to pay the mandated 15% of diocesan revenue to support the churchwide budget.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.