Nearly 55 years ago, a young Sam Rodman stood before the priest at a west Massachusetts Episcopal church with a younger sister on the left and an older one on the right as they were baptized before the congregation.
Rodman was just 4 years old, but the sense of community and goodwill he felt stayed so strongly with him that he drew a sense of purpose in the church. He became a deacon, then a priest, and eventually the acting chief of staff for the Massachusetts diocese.
Saturday morning, Rodman, 58, was back before another Episcopal leader, taking another step in his now lifelong spiritual journey. Dressed in a simple white robe, with a white rope serving as a belt, Rodman stood at the front of Duke Chapel before the leader of The Episcopal Church, who asked the 1,000 congregants in attendance if Rodman should be ordained the bishop for the central North Carolina diocese that includes Charlotte, Greensboro and the Triangle.
“That is our will,” they said in unison.
“Will you uphold Samuel as bishop?” said the leader, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who had led the diocese for 15 years.
“We will,” they boomed.
And shortly after, Rodman was consecrated as the 12th bishop for a diocese with 50,000 members spread across 111 congregations and 10 campus ministries in 38 counties. He was handed attire reflecting his new role: the stole (shawl), chasuble (an outer vestment kind of like a poncho without a hood) and mitre (a tri-topped hat).
He told the congregants of a quip he made when asked whether the promotion would change him: “I said, ‘No, I’ll be the same person with a bigger hat.’ ”
But he then said the outpouring of support at his consecration touched him deeply, and he anticipated he would grow as a leader as he got to know the diocese.
“I have a feeling that there’s going to be a whole lot of shaping going on,” he said.
As the new bishop of the Raleigh-based Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Rodman will be the leader of Charlotte's Episcopal churches. They include St. Peter's in uptown, Christ Episcopal on Providence Road, St. John’s on Carmel Road, St. Martin's in the Elizabeth neighborhood, and Holy Comforter on Park Road.
The 150-minute ceremony combined the serious with the self-effacing. It opened with bongo drums and a dancer in red, twirling a chiffon-like shawl as she pranced up the aisle, then transitioned into heavy organ and horns as scores of clergy dressed in white robes entered the chapel. They were seated so that they created a white cross amid the congregation.
Sam sits and talks eye to eye, heart to heart.
The Rev. Gayle Harris
The Rev. Gayle Harris, a bishop suffragan from Massachusetts, gave a rousing sermon. She told the congregants that all people grapple with their materialistic and spiritual selves, but Rodman is focused on the spiritual at a time when much of society feeds the material.
She spoke of how in the streets of Boston, Rodman would go out of his way to engage with homeless people.
“Sam sits and talks eye to eye, heart to heart,” Harris said. “It’s like he’s talking to Queen Elizabeth II or Pope Francis, or Jesus himself.”
She warned him that there will be days as a bishop that will be like “putting pantyhose on an octopus” and advised him to cheer for North Carolina’s teams, “but continue to pray for the Boston Red Sox.”
There are two other Episcopal dioceses in North Carolina: The one for Western North Carolina is based in Asheville and the one for East Carolina is based in Kinston.
Rodman succeeds Curry, who became the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2015.
Curry now leads a New York-based Episcopal Church that is the U.S. body of the Anglican Communion -- a worldwide fellowship of churches with 80 million members and roots in the Church of England.
Congregants said they found the ceremony engaging and uplifting.
“It was a glorious service,” said Emery Anderson, 67, who attends St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cary.
For more on the Rev. Sam Rodman’s career and mission, go to bishopsearch.dionc.org/samuel-rodman.html.