Local pastor named N.C. bishop

Curry is first black to lead an Episcopal diocese in the South

February 12, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Michael B. Curry, the rector of Baltimore's St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square who led a rebuilding effort after the sanctuary was devastated by a 1993 fire, was elected bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina yesterday.

Curry, 46, who was chosen on the 11th ballot from among six candidates by the clergy and lay delegates of the diocese, will become the first African-American bishop to lead an Episcopal diocese in the southern United States. Blacks have served as suffragan, or assisting, bishops in the South, but have never before led a diocese.

The Diocese of North Carolina has about 33,000 members and includes the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.

He will be installed on June 17.

"It's a significant milestone," Curry said of his election. "It's a moment for the church and it says something good and wonderful about the church. I really believe the church is a place where there is room for all of God's children, no matter who you are or where you came from.

"The people of North Carolina didn't elect a black bishop, they didn't elect a minority bishop," he said. "They elected a bishop who happens to be African-American, who happens to be a descendant of North Carolina sharecroppers and slaves. That's a wondrous thing, and it says a lot about them."

The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Ihloff, bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, said Curry will be "a wonderful addition to the House of Bishops."

"I'm sure the people at St. James will miss Michael very much, but this is a wonderful affirmation to Michael's very fine career and his professional competence, and is a fitting thing," Ihloff said. "Michael is already a very well-known preacher in the church, known here and even abroad. He is a person of vision, a very clear vision and a sense of where the church ought to be going."

Curry was born in March 1953 in Chicago. After earning a master of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School, he was ordained in 1978 at St. Stephen's Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he was rector until 1982. He served as rector of St. Simon of Cyrene Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1982 until 1988, when he was called to St. James Church in Baltimore.

Under Curry's leadership, St. James started more than 80 new ministries, including a gospel choir and an after-school academy that provides academic assistance to children in the West Baltimore neighborhood. St. James had a reputation as a rather staid parish when Curry arrived, and parishioners delight in telling how he once broke the wooden pulpit during a particularly vigorous sermon.

Near-disaster struck in 1993, when lightning hit the church building, starting a fire that caused extensive damage. Curry mounted a $2.5 million rebuilding and restoration program that won several architectural and construction awards.

The most difficult part of his election as bishop will be leaving St. James, Curry said.

"It's hard. That really was one of the hard things," Curry said. "It's hard to leave people you love, and I love the people of St. James. My sense is this is a healthy, strong time in the life of the congregation. If there's a time to leave, the congregation is in a strong, mature, healthy stage in terms of its mission and its finances."

For the parishioners of St. James, the news was bittersweet.

"My heart's with him because I think things will go on. He'll be leaving the church in great shape, much better shape than he found it," said George Barrick, who has attended St. James for more than 30 years. "But I don't speak for everybody. There are many, many who wish that it hadn't occurred. There's a sense of mourning, almost."

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