Bishop Alan M. Gates, Bishop Gayle E. Harris and Bishop Barbara C. Harris participated in the installation liturgy of Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry at Washington National Cathedral on Nov. 1. The installation of the first African-American presiding bishop was a historic moment for the entire church, and one with great personal significance for Bishop Gayle Harris, who has known Curry since meeting in seminary in 1979.
“[When I think of Michael] I think of his honesty, his sense of humor and joy, how he is present to you and only you when he’s present, his quick wit and his quick insight,” she said. “He’s able to quickly to get to the heart of the matter but also the heart of the person in front of him.”
Harris shared some reflections from the historic weekend in Washington, which she described as full of “a lot of joy, a lot of hope and a lot of expectation.”
On the service:
“[Washington National Cathedral] sits on a hill, Mt. St. Alban, the highest point in D.C., and it felt like going up to Jerusalem. The line was four blocks long half an hour before the doors even opened. People from all walks of life, all perspectives, theologies, spiritualities, all races, people from around the world, all came. Archbishop Suheil Dawani from the Diocese of Jerusalem was there, and bishops from Central America, Africa--all there to celebrate not only this historic event, but because of their connection with Michael, who is passionate about Jesus, passionate about the church. All these people came to witness and support him in this new venture."
“He invited Bishop Barbara Harris to stand with him, the first woman bishop, a woman who has truly borne the heat of the day in the church. To me that was one of the most powerful symbols of what it is to be committed, to give your all in spite of all, to the church. I think that is going to be his witness as the presiding bishop.”
Two historic bishops:
“Before the service, the bishops were vested down in Bethlehem Chapel, and there was just unbounded joy... people grabbing each other, saying ‘did you think you’d live to see this day?’. And also of course remembering what a tremendous witness and leader [outgoing Presiding Bishop] Katharine Jefferts Schori was, that she stood firm in a time of great turmoil, and that we needed her at that time, with the church going through all these conflicts. She kept a steady and unflappable presence that gave assurance to us all.”
“A holy moment was after [Curry] was seated, they played the Fanfare for the Common Man. He asked for that to be played in honor of the late John Walker, the first African-American to be nominated for presiding bishop. And while they played that, Michael and Katharine went around the altar and stood and gazed at each other while the music came to a crescendo. It was a powerful moment of the past and the present, but also [of] the witness and the passion they both have brought. She then handed him the presiding bishop’s crozier, and he walked down the center aisle, where blessings were poured upon him by a rabbi, the archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, an imam of the Muslim faith and a priest of the Moravian church. I loved the prayer from the imam:
“'God Almighty, our Creator, we celebrate the dignity you have bestowed on all human beings by creating us all in your own image. Help us to understand what you have told us in your Holy Quran—that you have made us unique nations and tribes that we may know one another. Our Lord, fill our hearts with mercy and compassion for one another. Oh Lord of the heavens and the earth, guide our hearts and make us act with love, friendship and justice. God, the merciful and compassionate, we ask your blessing on Bishop Michael. Give him the strength to continue the tradition of strong leadership in the denomination. May his leadership be known, not only by a lively pastoral spirit within the Episcopal Church, but by outreach to all people of faith.'”
On her hopes for the tenure of Curry as presiding bishop:
“Michael will help empower us to articulate who we are, and not be defined by others, that we will tell our own story in the way Jesus told stories. He kept referring to us as the Jesus movement, and we are the Jesus movement. And it’s movement in action but also in bold proclamation, as [Jesus] did. The rally call is: we are the Jesus movement, and it’s time to get about doing God’s work, but also proclaiming it. It’s all about God.”
Full coverage of the installation of Bishop Michael B. Curry can be found here.
--Ellen Stuart Kittle