Durham priest called to Episcopal diocese leadership
The Rev. Anne E. Hodges-Copple has just a few days left before she is consecrated as bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, a jurisdiction that includes the state’s two largest cities. The ceremony will be held Saturday at Duke Chapel. She will receive more vestments than a layperson can name, including the mitre (a bishop’s hat) and crosier (the shepherd’s staff).
The mitre will be given by retired Bishop Robert C. Johnson Jr., who served as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham before becoming bishop in 1994. Hodges-Copple was his assistant at St. Luke’s beginning in the mid-1980s.
“It will be a wonderful moment because I met Bob when I was 26,” she said, and Hodges-Copple preached at Johnson’s consecration as bishop. After her first time working at St. Luke’s, Hodges-Copple went to work at Duke University as a chaplain, then came back to St. Luke’s as rector until being elected bishop suffragan.
Hodges-Copple returned to St. Luke’s Episcopal earlier this week to talk about her new role in The Episcopal Church. Her last Sunday at the Durham parish was April 14, and she has been transitioning since then into her new role. It was a gentle easing away from the life of a parish priest. Her office as bishop suffragan will be in Greensboro, but she will be on the road a lot serving a diocese that stretches from Tarboro to Charlotte. Her husband, John Hodges-Copple, works in Research Triangle Park and they have three grown children. They’ll keep their home in Durham and also have a residence in Greensboro.
A bishop suffragan is a full bishop, elected by the diocese. Hodges-Copple said to a non-Episcopalian, it could be described as a type of assisting bishop. The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry is bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. He will be part of Saturday’s consecration, as will the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is the United States arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Hodges-Copple is the first female bishop in North Carolina and the first in the church’s Southeast province. Women have always been leaders in the church at the grassroots level, but it has taken time for women to work their way into leadership, she said.
“The Durham/Chapel Hill area is a hotbed of women who get up, speak up and get it done,” Hodges-Copple said, mentioning civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Episcopal saint Pauli Murray. “I have great role models.”
Hodges-Copple’s new role will have several areas of concentration, including higher education, young adults, Spanish-speaking congregations, ordinations and retirees. Her job description is pretty vast and she doesn’t want anyone to feel left out, she said, but Hodges-Copple is particularly excited about working with Spanish-speaking congregations. She also mentioned congregation members from different countries, including Sudan.
“Part of my calling is making their voices empowered,” she said.
Another passion of the new bishop suffragan will be taking church beyond the church walls.
“Being church is so much more. What I believe is Sunday worship is the rehearsal for how we live the rest of the week,” Hodges-Copple said. She’ll look at fresh vehicles to take the gospel beyond the doors, she said. They already have food pantries and work with Habitat for Humanity.
“We may need some fresh and more bold ways to proclaim the gospel. Jesus’ message is radical. All are welcome,” she said.
After her consecration on Saturday in front of 1,400 people, Hodges-Copple will preach and teach at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Clemmons on Sunday. Consecration is a sacrament, she said, and she will be changed into something new. This week she set aside time each day for prayer and quiet as she prepared to heed the call from God and the diocese.