Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina was inducted on Sunday as the first black leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church during a ceremony in the nation’s capital where he called for economic and racial unity.
Curry, 62, was installed as the presiding bishop of the branch of the 80 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion at the Washington National Cathedral during a morning service.
In an impassioned sermon, Curry called on people of all races, economic classes and beliefs to unite and conquer the world’s challenges.
“We are God’s children, all of us,” he said. “No matter our race, no matter our religion, no matter our class, our stripe, our type, we are God’s children.”
Curry also exhorted the church, with 2 million members, to strive for a more just society: “We have been sent and called into this world not to settle for what is, but to dream and work for what shall be.”
Curry’s installation comes as U.S. race relations have been strained over the past year. A series of high-profile killings of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers has sparked renewed national debate over fairness in America’s criminal justice system.
In June, tensions were further inflamed when nine black parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot to death by a white gunman in a massacre authorities said was racially motivated. The AME Church is an independent black Protestant denomination rooted in the Methodist Church with an Episcopal form of governance.
Curry was elected and confirmed the presiding bishop and primate in June at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, where church leaders also voted overwhelmingly to allow same-sex couples to wed in Episcopal services.
Curry had served as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina since 2000.
A native of Chicago, Curry assumed the post from Katharine Jefferts Schori, who ended her nine-year term as the first woman to lead the church.
Curry is the first person of color to be a top leader in the U.S. Episcopal Church, which is the 14th-largest U.S. religious denomination, according to the National Council of Churches.
(Writing by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Steve Gorman and Richard Chang)