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Friday, February 14, 2020

First Female And Openly Lesbian Bishop Of The Episcopal Church Ordained


Dr. Bonnie Perry receives a hug from Rev. Dan Scheid, of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Flint, before the ceremony where she will be ordained as the 11th Episcopal Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan on February 8, 2020 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, Mich. Perry will become the first woman bishop as well as the first lesbian bishop in the diocese since it was formed in 1836. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)

Bonnie Perry still remembers sitting out on the ocean on a boogie board and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while she lived in Hawaii growing up.

The image of that sunset and the golden light over the water is one she has always carried with her.

That image decorated Perry's body Saturday morning. Bright teals and gold captured the scene Perry still remembers on her cope, the vestment worn by priests in celebration. She wore the water scene in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 as she was officially ordained and consecrated as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

"The ocean for me is a great metaphor for God, because it is necessary for life, it is playful, compelling. And you can't control it," Perry said. "You don't know when it's coming and when it's going, you can try to predict but there's no way of controlling it, it's enormous and it's also scary. I think God is like that in all of its ways, both comforting and caring."

Perry is the first female and openly lesbian priest to be elected as bishop in the 184-year history of the diocese. 


Dr. Bonnie Perry kneels before the presiding bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, while surrounding bishops place their hands on her for the consecration of the the new bishop during a service that will ordain Perry as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan on February 8, 2020 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, Mich. Perry will become the first woman bishop as well as the first lesbian bishop in the diocese since it was formed in 1836. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)

She was elected as the next bishop on June 1. She was voted in with 64 clergy votes and 118 laypeople. To be elected, Perry needed a minimum of 55 clergy votes and 94 lay votes. She succeeds current Bishop Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs Jr., who has held the role since 2000 and was the first African American pastor to fill the role.

Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, the 11th bishop of Indianapolis, reminded the audience of the importance of sound leadership that cares about equality and love for all people, regardless of creed, during her sermon Saturday.

"I don't have to remind you of what is at stake, our country is being held hostage by fears based on the lies of white supremacy, transphobia, misogyny and a callous disregard for the generations we pray will come after us," Burrows said.


Dr. Bonnie Perry lays face down at the feet or Episcopal reverends during a service that will ordain her as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan on February 8, 2020 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, Mich. Perry will become the first woman bishop as well as the first lesbian bishop in the diocese since it was formed in 1836. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)


Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry opens her traditional Episcopal ring that was just shipped to her office in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Perry will be the first woman and openly lesbian Bishop for the diocese of Michigan. The ring is symbolic and used to press wax for official documents pertaining to church matters. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

Perry's history of community organizing and passion for social justice was also highlighted during the ceremony.

"There's an urgency to this moment, and knowing how to organize and mobilize for the sake of the gospel is a matter of life and death for vulnerable children, for immigrants and refugees," Burrows said. "Your new bishop is the real deal, she knows that the world wants us to be afraid, afraid of stretching out beyond our comfort zone, but like Peter, we've got to try."

Perry was also presented with her Episcopal ring, which is given to a newly ordained bishop at the ordination service. The custom ring captures Perry's love for the Great Lakes, with each lake elevated on the side of the ring and surrounded by sapphires of different shades of blue to represent the different colors in the lakes.

On the underside of the ring is the logo of All Saints Chicago, where Perry got her start and served for 27 years. The Celtic knot on the bottom of the band is representative of her Irish roots and Scottish connections. 

The Rev. Elizabeth Bingham of St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak said this past year has seen more female bishops ordained than ever before "at a time when our country really needs it."

"The reverends before her have set this beautiful foundation for Bonnie to come in and to really represent to the people of Michigan what God looks like in the world, that God looks like justice, that God looks like kindness, that God looks like love."

Bingham said Perry's commitment to issues of equity will further the church's mission of understanding and social justice.

"What Bonnie understands, and what our tradition understands, is that we are all God's people, and to bring that kind of unity is a big part of what she represents," Bingham said.

Perry, 57, grew up in a Catholic household, but felt that as a lesbian she "was never going anywhere."

The Episcopal Church is known to be a more progressive faith-based community, with "a legacy of inclusion" and leadership from "people in our church, regardless of sexual identity or orientation," according to the Episcopal Church website.

"I really had this deep abiding sense of call to talk about God, to preach to be a priest, to celebrate communion. And I felt like I could do it in a way that wasn't particularly pious and that non-church-y people might be able to hear it. (In the Episcopal Church) I knew women, both straight and gay, who were being affirmed in their calls and they had compelling careers. And I thought, 'Oh I want to do that' because I felt like I wouldn't be able to be fully who God has created me to be in calling me to be in the Roman Catholic Church."

While being a member of the LGBT community is part of Perry's identity, she said she never wanted it to be the key trait people knew her for.

"People get lost in bedroom politics and forget about the reality," Perry said. "What I've worked really, really, really hard on doing is becoming a really good preacher, trying to build a congregation based on outreach. The gospel doesn't matter I don't think if it doesn't change people's lives."

On Sunday, Perry will be formally welcomed and seated at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit.

"I'm really excited because I think we're going to be able to do amazing things. And I'm building on a legacy here," Perry said. "This is a diocese that has a strong legacy for being progressive and inclusive. I have this amazing foundation and I feel like, 'Oh, (we) can do some stunning things. I can really think we can make a transformative difference in the lives of people who don't even go to our faith communities. And I'm scared to death."

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