The Episcopal Church General Convention Saturday elected Bishop Michael Curry to serve as the denomination’s new presiding bishop, making him the first African American to lead the 1.9-million-member church, the Associated Press reports.
It was a landslide victory, according to AP. Curry earned 121 of 174 votes on the first ballot. None of the other three candidates had more than 21 votes.
Curry said being the first African American to lead the denomination is “a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and in the movement of God’s spirit in our world.”
This comes as the Episcopal Church continues to confront its historic links to slavery. The departing presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, led a service of repentance in 2008 over the church’s silence and complicity in not only slavery but also years of segregation.
Curry, 62, currently leads the Diocese of North Carolina, overseeing 49,000 church members in 117 congregations.
“We’ve got a society where there are challenges before us. We know that. And there are crises all around us. And the church has challenges before us,” Curry told the assembly, according to AP.
One of those challenges is declining church membership, which has fallen by 18 percent over 10 years, AP says. The Episcopal Church, as well as other denominations, faces a trend of increasing numbers of people choosing not to affiliate with any particular religious group.
AP notes that Curry supports same-sex marriage. This is out of step with many in the religious community who are outraged over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide. Many faith leaders are demanding exemptions from the law.
Curry’s is the second, consecutive historic election of the Episcopal Church. Jefferts Schori became the denomination’s first female presiding bishop in 2006. Leadership changes hands officially Nov. 1 during services at the Washington National Cathedral.