Episcopal locals beam over first black top bishop

Episcopal locals beam over first black top bishop
November 05
00:00 2015

 Photo provided by Patrice Toney
Patrice Toney meets with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the U.S. Episcopal Church while she was in Washington, D.C., to see him installed as the church’s first black presiding bishop. A contingent from Winston-Salem’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church attended to celebrate the momentous occasion.

Judie Holcomb-Pack

For The Chronicle

When the U.S. Episcopal Church installed Michael Curry as its first black presiding bishop on Nov. 1 at the Washington National Cathedral, a contingent from Winston-Salem’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church attended to celebrate the momentous occasion.

Bishop Curry was the Deacon in Charge at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church from 1978 to 1982 and Patrice Toney remembers her excitement as a child serving as an acolyte.

“Bishop Curry’s energy fills a room,” Toney commented. “He illuminates a room and you can tell he genuinely loves people.” Even after leaving St. Stephen’s, Curry often returned for special events. Toney explained the special relationship saying, “He always had St. Stephen’s in his heart.”

While at St. Stephen’s, Curry encouraged the congregation to become involved in community outreach and Toney remembers one sermon in particular where he preached on “Go,” urging members to go into the community to serve. The church became involved in local charities such as Crisis Control Ministry, and brought awareness to the issue of hunger through walking in CROP Hunger Walks. Their service started with Curry but continues today due to his passion for social justice and fighting poverty.

Toney was among the members of St. Stephen’s who attended last Sunday’s installation and described the event as full of “pomp and circumstance.” Being held in the Washington National Cathedral added to the elegance of the event, according to Toney, but what she will always remember is the diversity of the participants. “Every age, race and culture was represented. Parts of the service were in other languages, a choir from St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, performed, Native Americans played the drums and chanted. It was the most diverse body of people I’ve ever witnessed.”

The 62-year-old Curry served as Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for the past 15 years before being elected to the position of presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Father Steve Rice, rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, remarked, “I will always remember Bishop Curry as a bishop who was not afraid, who was attentive, and understood the importance of laughter. As in demand as he always was, he would always respond to texts or emails and he always made time for me, even when we were in disagreement.”

Rice recounted a time at the end of September when he and Bishop Curry had lunch. “Our conversation flowed from church politics to theological controversies to our favorite Western television show. As we walked back to his office, knowing this would be our moment together, I asked for his blessing. He put his hands on my head, as a father to a son, and gave me his blessing. A man who would lead the Episcopal Church and be an important voice in the Anglican Commission was a shepherd to one of his flock, which at that moment, was all that mattered.”

Curry’s ability to give his undivided attention to each individual was also expressed by Father Lawrence Womack, rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. Womack recalled, “Since meeting Father Curry in 1996, I have learned much from him. Most importantly, I have seen him in patient and earnest discussion with all types of people – young children to octogenarians, friends and enemies, alike. He is consistently present with all people who find themselves in his presence. One such example was on an ordinary Sunday morning in Baltimore – two services down and (possibly) one more to go, he stood at the Crossing in St. James’ Church talking with parishioners – some who were happy with something and others who had complaints about other things. He attended to each with the same level of concern and care, all while gently attending to his youngest daughter, who was more than ready to get home.”

To Womack, one of the most extraordinary things about Curry is “he is consistently present with folks in the ordinary stuff of their lives. In whatever capacity, whether he makes a decision with which they agree or disagree, he communicates his care for them as his sisters and brothers – all members of God’s family. He truly listens and hears and values the depth of people’s concerns. As a person, as a priest, as the Bishop of North Carolina and now, as Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry is caring of and careful with people in the ordinary stuff of their lives and that is what makes him extraordinary.”

Toney also noted this patient concern after the end of his installation when Bishop Curry made a point to meet and greet every person who wanted to congratulate him. Although the line was long, he stayed until he had met every person. Toney believes Bishop Curry will unify the Episcopal Church. Toney recalled that in his sermon, he said, “God didn’t call us to religion, but to love our neighbors.”


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