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'God has been calling me here:' First female, black Episcopal bishop in Colorado talks her past and the church's future

9NEWS spoke with the first female and first African American bishop of the Episcopal Church of Colorado.

DENVER, Colorado — For the first time in history, the Episcopal Church in Colorado will be led by an African American woman.

On Saturday, the church hosted the ordination and consecration of Kym Lucas as its 11th bishop. She is both the church's first woman bishop and first black bishop.  

RELATED | Episcopal Church ordains first female black bishop in Colorado

Before being elected to the position last October, Lucas served as rector of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. 

9NEWS sat down with Lucas to learn more about her history with the Episcopal Church, the challenges ahead, and the congregation she now leads.

(Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: Where did your journey with the Episcopal Church begin?

Lucas: I am actually what they call a near-cradle Episcopalian. My godmother had me baptized in the church when I was two years old. So, I started my spiritual journey in the Episcopal church. She was a member of what our church calls the Altar Guild. That is the group that sets the table and prepares the space for worship every Sunday. I remember my early childhood, spending early Sunday mornings in church while back then the Altar Guild ladies did their work. I just got to hang out in church which was a pretty cool thing.

So, you grew up in the Episcopal Church?

I did. I did. I left for a little while when my godmother died, and my mother remarried. My stepfather was Methodist. So, I spent my middle school and high school years in the Methodist Church. That’s where I was introduced to church camp and had a good time. 

I ran screaming from church when I was a senior in high school but didn’t stay gone long because the Episcopal chaplain at Wake Forest University, the late Reverend Bob McGee, coaxed me back into the church.

So, you have a lot of good memories with this church?

Very good. Very good memories.

Did you ever expect as a young girl or a student at Wake Forest University that you would be sitting here as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Colorado?

No! In fact, I remember when I started going back to church in college, my chaplain said "Well, you know, I think it’s time for you to do your confirmation classes," and I said, "sure, I’m ready to own my faith. I’m ready to be a Christian." Soon after that, he said to me, "Oh, have you ever thought that you might be called to ministry?" To which I said, "No way!" But, I’ve learned in my faith, as a disciple as I’m following Jesus, every time I say, "no way," Jesus has a different response. I had not planned to pursue being a Bishop. 

In our church process, when a Bishop retires, churches put out their profile which says who they are and who they’ve been and who they hope to be and where they’re going. Some friends of mine were sitting around and said, "You have to listen to this profile from the diocese of Colorado." My friend was reading it and she said, "who does that sound like to you?" and they all looked at me. I figured, if I’m going to be faithful, I have to walk down the path.

Was it just like a light bulb that went off in that moment?

It did and there was also a part of me that said, "oh no!"

What about the description of the retiring Bishop here in Colorado matched up with your personality?

One of the things that I loved was that the Episcopal Church in Colorado has had a lot of conflict. Primarily around issues of same-gender, same-sex marriage around the ordination of LGBTQI clergy. A lot of difficulty and conflict and yet this church has emerged a church that is hopeful. I love that because I came out of a church where I had people all over the political spectrum in Washington D.C. I had members of my church from every political administration dating back to Gerald Ford. What I said to them was, we don’t have to be like-minded, we don’t have to think the same about everything, but we have to be like-hearted. We have to approach every situation in a loving way, in a respectful way, in a way that is open to the spirit of God as it moves through us. 

Hearing that this diocese had gone through all of those struggles but came together and had hope in their life and in their call to be a church together was really powerful to me. It really resonated with me. That they were really looking at the tough issues of the world around them and wanting to be a positive factor was really exciting to me. So, I said, ‘Yes! This sounds like a place I would love to be."

Tell me about the moment you learned you had been elected as the eleventh Bishop of the church.

Oh, my goodness. I remember that morning, calling a friend of mine saying, "Do you really think they’re going to elect me?" Even then I was not sure where this path would end. I remember getting the phone call from the head of the standing committee which is the governing body here and just being overwhelmed, being delighted, being terrified and excited at the same time and just having this deep profound sense that this was right. This was good, and this was right.

What was it like then looking back on your life and history in this church to identify your path to this place?

Oh, absolutely! I always say, hindsight, you can always see how God is moving in your life if you take the time to look back and look at it. You know, it’s funny to me that my husband grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and his family always came to Colorado for vacation. So, when we got married we started coming to Colorado for vacations. I fell in love with it the first time I came out here. That was over twenty years ago. Looking back and sort of seeing how things play out, it’s very clear that God has been calling me here and I’m glad to be here.

What do you think about the sanctuary here?

Oh my gosh! St. John’s Cathedral is an awesome place! I mean, it really is. I always say if you want to come and feel the transcendence of spirituality, this is a great place for it, a really wonderful place.

Would you call the Episcopal Church of Colorado a progressive, forward-thinking church?

I’ve been in Washington D.C. for a long time so labels like progressive and conservative don’t always make sense in various contexts. What I would call this church is a church that is open to the Holy Spirit moving in it. It’s an open church. It is open to where God might lead it and that might be to some very strange places or places that we really aren’t expecting to go but there is this deep, profound sense of prayerfulness and openness in this church which is beautiful.

Did you consider that you would be making history as the first female, African American Bishop coming to this church?

Yes. One of the amazing things that I think is happening in our church is that we are receiving this wonderful blessing of openness into how we make our church leadership look like our church, look like our world. That the people of the Episcopal church of Colorado were open to that is very exciting to me. Even though it brings its own challenges. Like a lot of institutions that have been predominantly male and white, there will be challenges in that and we have to face them boldly, we have to look at them. But I sit here with sort of this great confidence in this community because we have intentionally embarked on this journey together. My ministry is not about me being a black female but who I am influences my ministry and how I see the world. That this church has agreed to embark on this adventure with me is a bold testament to their openness.

What kind of response have you gotten from members of this church to your arrival?

People are very excited and very helpful, and I love that and they’re willing to minister with me which is great. One of my practices, on the rare occasion when I have a Sunday off, is I actually sneak into a church without my collar, without my clericals, and sit in the back and worship with the community. One of the things that I have found so far, is that the Episcopal Church in Colorado is an amazingly friendly church! People may say, "Do I know you? Have you been here before?" and I go, "No, this is my first visit," but they have been so welcoming and encouraging and embracing and sometimes people say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you." For me, the greatest gift is being welcomed into a church community when people have no idea who I am. That’s just been wonderful. A wonderful experience.

What are some of the challenges of stepping into an organization that has historically been led by white males?

Questions about qualifications are always a matter of people’s understanding. I think one of the great things about our process in the Episcopal Church is that every candidate for Bishop has to face the same vetting process. So, everyone is sort of vetted on the same criteria. That’s something that we’ve sort of built into our process that helps with that. 

I think when we haven’t had examples in our life of leadership that looks a certain way, when we haven’t had teachers, we haven’t had bosses, we haven’t had examples in our life of leadership looking different from us, it’s often hard to imagine what that leadership is like. The good news for us in the Episcopal Church is that we have processes and systems in our church governance that help us meet some of those challenges.

What does your family, especially your kids, think about you taking on this role?

I got this text from my daughter the other day that said, "Mom, I’m totally going to flex on you being a Bishop now." I’m not quite sure what that means but I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s a good thing. They’re very excited for me. They’re a little anxious about the move but they are really very excited for me.

What do you want to say to the people of this Church and to the people of Colorado?

I want to tell Colorado; the Episcopal Church in Colorado is awesome! If you haven’t checked it out, you should. How excited and proud I am of the churches here in Colorado. They are wonderful examples of how the Holy Spirit is moving and how they want to be followers of Jesus and share that love in the world. I am thrilled to be here.

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