The U.S. Episcopal Church made history Saturday by electing its first black presiding bishop at its general conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the denomination will also explore the church's directives on issues including gun violence, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and same-sex marriage.
"It really is a blessing and privilege to serve our church and to serve our Lord in this way," Michael Curry said after he was elected to replace outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead the denomination.
"I treasure this church, this house, the House of Bishops, all of us. We are God's children," added Curry, who will officially take office on Nov. 1, according to Episcopal News Service, which reported that he was elected by the House of Bishops from a slate of four nominees on the first ballot.
Curry's election also made history as it was the first time a presiding bishop was chosen on the first ballot. He received 121 votes of a total 174 cast.
The presiding bishop is primate and chief pastor of the church, chair of the Executive Council, and president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
"We are overwhelmed, excited – and I had one colleague say that we never thought in our lifetime that we'd live to see a black president of the United States and a black presiding bishop," Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan said. "Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry is a longtime UBE member. He believes in the church being inclusive for all, especially African-Americans and Africans of the diaspora, and we are confident that his ministry will expand to all in the church based on the experience that we've had with him to date. He's in our prayers."
As has happened with President Barack Obama, the first U.S. president of African descent, Buchanan added, "the expectation levels are very high."
Curry has been North Carolina's 11th diocesan bishop since he was ordained and consecrated in June 2000.
Curry said The Episcopal Church is "the church where I learned about Jesus."
"This is a good and wonderful church and we are good and wonderful people and I thank God to be one of the baptized among you. My heart is really full," he said.
Curry said he will serve and work for the "cause of the Jesus movement in world … to help this become a transformed world that looks more like God's dream and less like our nightmare."
"That's what energizes me and what I believe in and we can really continue and build on the good work that's been done in Bishop Katharine's years," he said.
"Everybody knows I really do take evangelism seriously and discipleship and witness and service and social advocacy, the gospel principles that we hold," he added. "Those three things are critical and needed in this time. I think The Episcopal Church has something to offer in the public square. We have a way of looking at the Gospel that makes known the love of God in Jesus."
Asked if he is evangelical, Curry responded, "I think it's fair to say that I am a follower of Jesus."
The denomination holds its general convention once every three years.
This year, the official agenda includes the church's directives on gun violence, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and same-sex marriage.
A legislative session Friday celebrated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the constitution guarantees same-sex marriage.
The denomination, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, approved a rite for the blessing of a same-sex relationship in 2012.
The denomination will now consider resolutions to expand gay and lesbian inclusion in the church, including an amendment to the canonical definition of marriage as between only a man and woman.
Also on the agenda are resolutions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. One proposal urges the church to divest from Israel or companies that do business with Israel because of the "Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories."
Some conservative congregations have pulled out of the denomination since its 2012 decision on gay marriage.