Bishop Sean Rowe elected 28th presiding bishop, will begin nine-year term Nov. 1

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 26, 2024

Bishop Sean Rowe addresses the 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, after his election and confirmation as the 28th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. He takes office on Nov. 1. Photo: Scott Gunn

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with up-to-date installation information. 

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of Western New York, was elected and confirmed June 26 at the 81st General Convention to serve as the 28th presiding bishop. His nine-year term as presiding bishop, the face and voice of The Episcopal Church and its chief pastor, begins Nov. 1.

The House of Bishops elected Rowe on their first ballot in a closed session at Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Louisville. The result later was announced publicly in the afternoon session of the House of Deputies, which greeted the news with cheers. The deputies proceeded to confirm him with a nearly unanimous majority, 95% in favor, and the standing-room-only crowd erupted in applause across the hall at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Rowe was elected from a slate of five nominees chosen through a process led by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, which is made up of 20 bishops, clergy and lay leaders. The other presiding bishop nominees were Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez and Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright.

After the confirmation vote in the House of Deputies, bishops began filing into the hall to join the deputies, and soon Rowe arrived to address the 81st General Convention. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduced his successor, and Rowe began by expressing humble gratitude to the four other bishops who had discerned candidacies for presiding bishop.

“I give thanks that the five of us together made this journey together, in solidarity, for the love of this church,” Rowe said.

His speech acknowledged some of the challenges facing The Episcopal Church at a time of membership decline when some dioceses say their ministries are struggling under financial burdens and diminished congregational vitality. Rowe affirmed the concerns raised by some bishops and deputies at this week’s convention, that some aspects of churchwide governance and structure could be hindering the church in adapting to a changing world.

“It’s not too strong to say we’re facing an existential crisis,” Rowe said – not because the church doesn’t have something to offer the world, he said, but “because the world around us is changed and continues to change and is changing all the time. God is calling us ever more deeply into the unknown.”

But Rowe pointed to signs of a more hopeful future in some of the collaborative experiments underway in some dioceses across the church, including his own dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York.

“We know that we cannot continue being The Episcopal Church in the same way, no matter where we live,” he said. “It’s time to reorient our church … to support dioceses and churches on the ground, where ministry happens.”

Rowe also is scheduled to preach at General Convention’s final Holy Eucharist on June 28.

Sean Rowe outside the cathedral

Bishop Sean Rowe, center, enters Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Louisville with other Episcopal bishops before their vote on the 28th presiding bishop. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Curry, the former bishop of North Carolina, concludes his nine-year term on Oct. 31, and Rowe will take office the following day, with a Nov. 2 installation to take place at the denominational headquarters in New York City.

The bishops conducted their election in the morning June 26 after most of them processed to Christ Church Cathedral on foot. To win, Rowe needed at least 82 votes from the 158 bishops who cast handwritten ballots. He received 89 votes, while Barker received 24, Wright received 19, Gutiérrez received 17 and Duncan-Probe received 9.

Bishop Sean Rowe serves both the dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York.

Rowe, 49, has led the Erie-based Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania since 2007, and also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York through a partnership the dioceses established in 2019. He previously served as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem from 2014 to 2018. Originally from western Pennsylvania, Rowe is a Virginia Theological Seminary graduate and was ordained to the priesthood in 2000 in Northwestern Pennsylvania, where he served in congregational ministry until his election as bishop. He currently serves as parliamentarian of the House of Bishops and Executive Council.

Rowe becomes the youngest bishop ever elected to serve as the church’s presiding bishop. He also was the youngest Episcopal priest in the U.S. when he was ordained, at age 24, and he was the youngest member of the House of Bishops when he was ordained and consecrated at age 32.

Rowe is married to Carly Rowe, a Christian educator; they have a daughter named Lauren.

General Convention, the triennial churchwide gathering, splits its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, and each house plays a distinct role in the selection of a new presiding bishop – with the bishops electing and the deputies confirming.

The presiding bishop has a range of responsibilities, as outlined by The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Those include presiding over the House of Bishops, chairing Executive Council, visiting every Episcopal diocese, participating in the ordination and consecration of bishops, receiving and responding to disciplinary complaints against bishops, making appointments to the church’s interim bodies, and “developing policies and strategies for the church and speaking for the church on the policies, strategies and programs of General Convention.”

There are few canonical requirements for presiding bishop candidates. They must be members of the House of Bishops and cannot yet have reached the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72.

Curry was elected in 2015 as the church’s first Black presiding bishop. Before him, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, elected in 2006, was the church’s first female presiding bishop. Her predecessor, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, was the first to serve a nine-year term, after the church shortened the presiding bishop’s term from 12 years.

Bishop Sean Rowe participates with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in a June 26 news conference after Rowe’s election and confirmation as the 28th presiding bishop. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

At a news conference after the election and confirmation, Curry offered encouragement and praise for the bishop who soon will take his place.

“I couldn’t be happier to be able to present to the House of Deputies the 28th presiding bishop-elect,” Curry said. “If you look at the history of the presiding bishop, they were all elected for a particular season and time and a particular vocation. … My brother sitting to my right was called for, as it says in the book as Esther, ‘for such a time as this.'”

Rowe said it was an honor to be elected to succeed Curry, “who has brought life to this church and a kind of energy and a focus on Jesus and the Gospel in a way that we’ve not seen in a generation.” He continued that he looked forward to helping “usher this church into whatever it is being called into in this next phase and season of life.”

“We don’t exactly know what that is or what it looks like,” Rowe said. “What we know is that God is in the midst of it and that love is the way, and if we continue to live and move ever more deeply into those ways that the world can transformed around us in Jesus.”

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


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