Many visitors to the diocesan Absalom Jones celebration were able to interact directly with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry – with the photos to prove it, too. (Photos: Susi Stiles)
When Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan for its Absalom Jones celebration, I learned something quickly: Despite rumors to the contrary, the practice of taking selfies with someone of note is not confined to young people.
Sure, there were a few “young people” around that day. But many of those who were packing smartphones and cameras were doing all they could to snap a picture of the presiding bishop…or with the presiding bishop…or anything relating to the presiding bishop.
To his credit, Curry looked comfortable with this. Perhaps that’s a large part of his appeal – of being engaging, approach-able, genuine. However, that also made for a few funny moments. Our youth missioner, Eric Travis, was charged with the task of escorting Curry from station to station during his February visit to the Cathedral Church of St Paul, Detroit. After all, the presiding bishop is on a tight schedule and should have some personal space…
Right. Watching Eric trying to escort Curry through the masses after the service was like watching a farmer try to build a fence around the goats in the field. It was not an easy task, especially when Curry seemed just as happy to interact with the well-wishers as they were to meet him.
Think about that for a second. Most of us can attend church, with a level of involvement from casual to uber-involved, and we can generally move from Point A to Point B without much disruption. With Curry, he’s constantly being hugged, tugged at, photobombed and given any other form of greeting you can imagine.
And he truly seems comfortable with that.
You would think this sort of rock-star treatment is confined to those who believe this will be their once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Curry. Not so. A few weeks back, he addressed the Episcopal Communicators Conference in Portland – addressing folks who should be used to this. Alas, after he gave his speech, he sat down nearby at my table; a table essentially in the corner of a hall. I knew how this would turn out, so once the program was complete, I grabbed my work materials and scooted away. It’s not because I didn’t want to greet him – I already ran into Curry the night before on a hotel elevator. But I knew everyone would swarm to him. Individual pictures, group pictures, autographs, even a few old-fashioned handshakes. For a full hour.
So what is it about Curry that moves the needle of those who meet him?
First, this is not meant to compare Curry with anyone else, including his predecessor, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori (who I found to be intelligent, thoughtful and, among other things, pretty clever). Curry offers something not commonly found in leaders of all kind today. Some leaders are stuffy. Some are more sizzle than steak. Curry is enthusiastic, but also smart and decisive. He has handled some internal issues with the Episcopal Church swiftly. He is quickly putting his mark on things, impressive considering he’s only getting started.
How will this enthusiasm rub off on the Episcopal Church and its members? Well, put it this way: Curry’s presence makes every day a memorable experience.
But we can’t store up our excitement for the next time the “Presiding Bishop North American Tour” comes to town.
We can, however, harness that excitement. Listen to the message. It does not even necessarily need to be Curry’s message. We hear that message from our local churches and our clergy. We see the message in activities that take place outside the church walls. It’s there in the outreach and the efforts that define the position of the churches in their local communities.
Not everyone can be Curry. But we don’t have to reserve our enthusiasm just for him,
Rick Schulte is Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan and is also editor of The Record. He can be reached at email@example.com.