Presiding Bishop-elect calls the church to ‘think differently’ about how it should work for the sake of sharing the Gospel

By Shireen Korkzan and Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 28, 2024

Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe preached during the final worship service at the 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. June 28, 2024. Photo: Andrew Morehead

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] In his first sermon as presiding bishop-elect, the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe said The Episcopal Church needs to be ready to tolerate uncertainty, make sacrifices and think differently about how the church should work so it can better share the Gospel of Jesus with a world that needs to hear it.

“In the work that lies ahead, we have what we might call an armor of love that will help us withstand whatever comes our way,” said Rowe, who now serves as bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and provisional bishop of the Diocese of Western New York. “Because, thanks be to God, the church in our day has been given [the Most Rev.] Michael Bruce Curry.”

A livestream of the service is here and the text of Rowe’s sermon is here.

The final worship service of the 81st General Convention on June 28 began with a Four Directions prayer by the Rev. Leon Samson of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland and later honored the work of civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson by singing the hymn for which he wrote the lyrics, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 

The Rev. Ricardo Bailey, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, served as the “emcee of liturgy,” and as part of the services logistics, he told worshippers to stand at the end for the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the standard protocol for what is commonly known as the Black national anthem. 

“Today we celebrate the memorial of James Weldon Johnson and as we sing the words of this hymn, let us know and understand that within Jesus we are not separate but within Jesus we are united, we are here as a church to celebrate who God is and what God calls us to be. 

“All I’m asking of you here today is to enter into the worship and give it to the Lord to fill you up,” he said.

Intercessory prayers were offered in both English and Spanish, and the celebration of the Eucharist featured language from Enriching Our Worship 1.

“This worship service was stellar. The presiding bishop-elect stirred our hearts because he reminded us that fixing what we have done in the past and getting on with the work of God matters,” Katherine Schnorrenberg, an alternate deputy for the Diocese of Maryland and worship volunteer, told Episcopal News Service at the close of the service.

Rowe described The Episcopal Church, like the community of Christians to whom Paul wrote in the Epistle reading, as small, countercultural and fighting against the evils of the world. That means the church needs to learn how to have hard conversations with each other with love and respect “so we’re all pointing in the same direction – the transformation of the world by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He lauded the church’s commitment to issues of justice, including the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people, the church’s investment in becoming Beloved Community, caring for creation and respecting the dignity of every human being.

“Bishop Rowe’s sermon resonated with me because it’s really important to me that in times of transition there be a forward movement for recognition of the gains or the work that’s been done to this point,” Linnea Stifler, a worship volunteer from Diocese of Western Michigan, told ENS. “This sermon gave me a sense that yes, we will continue in the directions that we’ve been doing in relation to dismantling racism and creation care.”

Rowe also praised the ministry of Curry, whom he said was a gift from God to the church who has shown what the power of love can do to transform the world. Curry, he said, has guided the church “in the struggle against racism and the wicked forces that divide us, and given us the gift of his powerful and prophetic preaching to sustain us.”

Curry made racial reconciliation, creation care and evangelism the core tenets of his tenure, and he emphasized the power of love throughout his time as presiding bishop. Through Curry, Rowe said in his sermon, “God has shown us again what the power of love can do to transform the world around us.”

East Tennessee Bishop Brian Cole told ENS that Episcopalians are “hungrily” anticipating what’s next for The Episcopal Church’s future under Rowe’s leadership.

The House Bishops elected Rowe on June 26 on the first ballot to serve the church as its 28th presiding bishop.

“Bishop Curry has been a blessing to this church, of course. I think we always have this tendency to elect the presiding bishop we need for the moment, and I think the House of Bishops was clear in choosing Sean,” Cole said. “All the folks who offered themselves up in that discernment process offered something for the church, but I think we were clear in what we chose, and I think this church is eager to see what’s next.”

Rowe’s term as presiding bishop begins Nov. 1.

— Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at Melodie Woerman is an Episcopal News Service freelance reporter based in Kansas.