CHICAGO (RNS) — The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago has elected the Rev. Canon Paula E. Clark, its first Black bishop and the first woman to lead the diocese.
Clergy and lay delegates from the diocese elected Clark unanimously on the fourth ballot, Saturday (Dec. 12), during an Electing Convention held on Zoom.
She succeeds Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, who plans to retire at the end of 2020.
“I am overwhelmed. I’m humbled and filled with so much joy, people of the diocese of Chicago. I can hardly believe it,” Clark told the convention Saturday in a video posted later on the diocese’s search and transition website.
Clark, a native of Washington, D.C., is canon to the ordinary and chief of staff in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
In a biography she wrote for the Chicago diocese, the bishop-elect recounted her experience growing up in a Black family in a predominantly white neighborhood during the social unrest of the 1960s.
After they weren’t able to integrate into a Baptist church, her family began attending an Episcopal church.
She was baptized at age 10 by Bishop John Walker, the first Black dean of Washington National Cathedral and first Black bishop of the Diocese of Washington, according to a press release. As a child, Clark wrote, she equated Walker with God. As an adult, she added, she has patterned her ministry after his.
“His gentle spirit, and dedication to love and justice inspire me today,” she wrote.
She began attending National Cathedral School in seventh grade and first felt the call to priesthood during its weekly chapel services. Her mother didn’t approve of women’s ordination, though, and Clark did not pursue it until after her mother’s death.
Clark worked for nine years as public information officer for the Office of the Mayor and the District of Columbia’s Board of Parole. She then earned her master of divinity degree in 2004 from the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
She served at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., 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 for clergy development, multicultural ministry and justice and then as canon to the ordinary and chief of staff.
Clark told the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago Saturday, “You have really captured my heart.”
She is scheduled to be consecrated as bishop on April 24. Between Lee’s retirement and Clark’s consecration, the diocese’s Standing Committee will serve as its ecclesiastical authority.
The Chicago diocese includes 122 congregations and more than 31,000 members in northern, central and southwestern Illinois.
“We Episcopalians are strong people who can model for the rest of this country and the world what it looks like to walk the way of love, and I look forward to ministering with you, diocese of Chicago, meeting you all. After all those Zoom webinars, I can’t wait to see your faces,” Clark said.
“God is truly calling us to a new day and a new way of being.”