Day Three: The Beautiful Sausage-Making of a Presiding Bishop’s Election

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Here is the whole story, for anything less would make it seem like it was easy.

At around 10:45AM the worship services ended and the bishops proceeded to the buses. It took five buses to move the entire House of Bishops to St. Mark’s Cathedral where they were to deliberate. According to one bishop I spoke with, trying to get the entire House transported via bus takes a lot longer than you think. Though the cathedral isn’t far from the convention center, they didn’t get there until 11:30AM.

The Bishops sang a few hymns and got settled in the church. They jointly agreed that they were all grown ups and therefore nobody had to surrender his or her phone in order to ensure the name of the elected bishop remained a secret until the election could be confirmed. They prayed, and they voted. Typically it takes multiple ballots before a single candidate gets enough votes to win, so people were ready for a long day.

Hisako PartyMeanwhile in the House of Deputies, we took some time to honor past house members and celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. We went on with our regular legislative business. And behind it all we waited.

At about 12:45, fifteen minutes before we were set to adjourn for lunch, two representatives from the House of Bishops arrived. They were invited onto the floor (no unauthorized persons are allowed on the floor of the House of Deputies, including Bishops), and they proceeded to the front of the House. They told us that they had successfully elected a Presiding Bishop. They then turned around and quietly shared the name with Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. The President asked that all members of Committee 19 (Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop) step forward. There were a lot of them – 30 members in all. The house Chaplin, Fr. Lester Mackenzie, stepped forward to pray for the committee in their discernment. It’s strange. Even though I knew all the candidates were men, it still felt strange for Fr. Mackenzie to use masculine pronouns to describe the office after nine years of it being held by a woman. What a difference a word makes.

Committee 19 disappeared behind a curtain to deliberate. At this point I should clarify that I’m not exactly sure what their deliberation entailed. In order for the House of Deputies to confirm a new Presiding Bishop, the election must be given to us in the form of a resolution. In order for us to hear a resolution, it must be presented by a committee along with the committee’s recommendation on what the House should do. However when it comes to the election of the Presiding Bishop, this is more of a formality (one could argue the entire confirmation from the House of Deputies is a formality, but probably an important one). In theory there is no information the committee had about the nominees they didn’t have before, and there’s not much information they could have ever had that the rest of us didn’t have all along. If there was a nominee they had reservations about, those reservations would have existed long before they got the name. So who knows what they talked about. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to ask one of them.

Either way, at ten minutes until our planned adjournment, Committee 19 disappeared and the entire House sat there, knowing that a name existed and that name was known to every bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the 30 people who just went behind the curtain. The President called on the Secretary to ask what the next item of business was. He suggested that in light of the hour we adjourn and come back after lunch.


The objections rang out from all over the House. The President looked shocked. Whispers began. As the thought of leaving for over an hour and not knowing loomed, from somewhere in the back the singing began. A few days before, the chaplain had taught us all a beautiful chanting song. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo // We are one together, yo, yo, yo.” The singing started and it spread fast. It was a bit of a joke to protest in this manner, but the intent was true. We were in this together. We were not leaving.

The President and Secretary suggested a few strange alternatives that involved everyone running out to get a sandwich and coming right back. People started to appear at the microphones to protest leaving. One deputy pointed out that the bishops were sequestered, unable to leave St. Mark’s until they heard from us, and that we owed it to them to stick around until confirmation could happen. After much bad suggestion-making we all agreed to suspend the rules and remain in session until Committee 19 came back. I started to check my phone. An isolated Twitter Storm was seen over Salt Lake City.

Committee 19 enjoying a nice lunch before beginning deliberations. #PB27 #gc78

I’ve never refreshed my Twitter feed so much… #gc78 #pb27 we at home want to know!!

In a bold strategy to kill time HOD will listen to long speeches about resolutions and then postpone consideration. #gc78 #pb27

Committee 19 debating anchovies or no anchovies with pizza.  #gc78 #pb27

Resolved, that if Committee 19 gets a pizza lunch, so do the deputies. #PB27 #GC78 #hangry

Re: #gc78 #pb27 This is worse than a woman being in labor…..just get it out already!!#!!

You know not the time nor the hour when committee 19 will return. #GC78 #pb27

#gc78 Knit a row, check Twitter, knit a row… this shawl will be done before #pb27 is confirmed.

Cameras in the hallIn the middle of the storm, a rumor started to go out. Someone had leaked the information, and we knew it had to be a bishop. So much for being grown ups. The Twittersphere responded by immediately urging everyone not to retweet the leaked name or share it if they had read it. The secrecy was out of respect for the dioceses of all four nominees. One of them was about to lose their bishop, and it would be cruel to toy with them by spreading unconfirmed rumors.

The gallery in the back of the House was standing room only. Photos from the exhibit hall showed it was completely empty. People back home were watching via live stream. At 1:45PM, the committee finally emerged. After more waiting for the electronic and administrative ducks to get in a row, the members came forward and the chair got behind the microphone.

Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.

Curry is an incredibly charismatic preacher and a strong believer in evangelism and sharing the love of God. He also happens to be the first African American person to be elected to the office of Presiding Bishop. A cheer rang out and the President reminded us not to applaud. He still wasn’t confirmed. We must respect the deputies of the four dioceses.

The results of the House of Bishops vote went on the screen. He was elected on the first ballot, receiving almost 70% of the votes despite being one of four candidates. It was an absolute landslide. More cheering came from the crowd, and more calls for respect from the President.

The matter was put before the house. The committee was still standing in front, and the President politely suggested they might want to return to their seats so they could vote. We entered our selections into the voting machines at our tables. The confirmation was overwhelming: 800 to 12.

Now you can cheer.

Once the applause died down, the House was put at ease for 20 minutes while Bishop Curry was escorted from the Cathedral over to the House of Deputies. The President announced we would suspend the rules to allow him and his family onto the floor. Even the Presiding Bishop-Elect has to have permission.

On Stage with PhotosWhen we were told he was almost there, we stood up in anticipation. The cheering started, and everyone was up on their chairs trying to get a good photo as the Presiding Bishop-Elect walked from the back entrance to the front of the House. He was escorted by current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. It was a beautiful sight to see them next to each other. A sign that even as we continue to struggle with diversity in our church, in our hearts we wish to be better.

As he reached the platform the cheers grew louder, and the singing began. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo!” I saw the delight and shock in Bishop Curry’s eyes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your very presence inspire people to burst into song. We are one together.

His speech was short. “I know you haven’t had lunch,” he joked. He was eloquent and to the point as usual, ending with probably the most important fact of all: “Nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”



One thought on “Day Three: The Beautiful Sausage-Making of a Presiding Bishop’s Election

    […] rules about making a Presiding Bishop (the highest office in the Episcopal Church), I invite you to check out my post from last summer when I blogged the General Convention of the Episcopal […]

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