The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago elects Rev. Paula Clark, their first black and first feminine bishop

CHICAGO (RNS) – The Diocese of Chicago has elected Rev. Canon Paula E. Clark, its first black bishop and the first woman to lead the diocese.

Clergy and lay delegates from the diocese unanimously elected Clark on Saturday (December 12) during an electoral convention on Zoom on the fourth ballot.

She succeeds Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, who plans to retire in late 2020.

“I am overwhelmed. I am humble and joyful, Diocese folks. I can hardly believe it,” Clark told Congress on Saturday in a video that was later posted on the Diocese’s search and transition website.

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A native of Washington, DC, Clark is a canon of the Ordinary Chief of Staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

In a biography she wrote for the Diocese of Chicago, the elected bishop shared her experience of living in a black family in a predominantly white neighborhood during the social unrest in the 1960s.

After they could not integrate into a Baptist church, their family attended an episcopal church.

According to a press release, she was baptized at the age of 10 by Bishop John Walker, the first black dean of Washington National Cathedral and the first black bishop of the Diocese of Washington. As a child, Clark wrote, she equated Walker with God. As an adult, she added, she modeled her ministry on his model.

“His gentle spirit and commitment to love and justice inspire me today,” she wrote.

She began attending National Cathedral School in seventh grade and felt the priesthood call for the first time during her weekly chapel services. However, her mother did not approve of ordination of women, and Clark did not persecute her until after her mother’s death.

Clark served as an information officer for the Mayor’s Office and the District of Columbia Board of Parole for nine years. In 2004 she received her Master of Divinity Degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

She served in St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville, Maryland. She then joined the staff of Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as Canon of Spiritual Development, Multicultural Service and Justice and then as Canon of Ordinary Chief of Staff.

Clark said to the Diocese of Chicago on Saturday: “You have truly won my heart.”

She is to be consecrated as a bishop on April 24th. Between Lee’s resignation and Clark’s ordination, the Diocese’s Standing Committee will serve as ecclesiastical authority.

The Diocese of Chicago has 122 wards and more than 31,000 members in north, central, and southwest Illinois.

“We Bishops are strong people who can model what it is like to walk the path of love for the rest of this land and the world, and I look forward to working with you, the Diocese of Chicago, and to meeting you all. After all these Zoom webinars, I can’t wait to see your faces, ”said Clark.

“God is really calling us to a new day and a new way of being.”

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