Union of Black Episcopalians honors Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jun 22, 2024

The Union of Black Episcopalians hosted a banquet in tribute to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during the last night of its annual business meeting and conference June 21, 2024, at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. UBE’s 56th annual conference was held here June 18-21, two days before the official start of 81st General Convention June 23-28. The election for the 28th presiding bishop is scheduled for June 26. Curry, who turned 71 in March, will retire on Oct. 31. Photo: Shireen Korkzan/ENS

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The Union of Black Episcopalians hosted a banquet in tribute to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during the last night of its annual business meeting and conference June 21 at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate such an incredible Christian who’s been such an incredible presiding bishop for us here at his last General Convention,” former Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs told Episcopal News Service. “To have him back with us after a year of being sick and seeing him in his glory – he’s the PB again – it’s wonderful to hear him.”

UBE’s 56th annual conference was held here June 18-21, two days before the official start of 81st General Convention June 23-28. The election for the 28th presiding bishop is scheduled for June 26. Curry, who turned 71 in March, will retire on Oct. 31.

“It really hit me that it’s kind of the end of an era,” the Rev. Christopher Slane, priest-in-charge of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. “The whole tenure of Bishop Curry has been a watershed moment for our church not just because he’s the first Black presiding bishop, but because his message of love and the Jesus movement has been so clear. His vision has been so apparent all throughout The Episcopal Church.”

Curry spoke during the banquet and thanked everyone for their prayers as he recovered from a series of medical issues and procedures in the last year.

“Roots are important because if the rootage is there, the fruit will come, and the fruit will keep coming if the roots stay deep,” Curry told the banquet attendees. “That’s true not only in botany, but it’s true in spirituality and theology and ecclesiology. It’s true for church folk; it’s true for countries; it’s true for our world.”

Curry, a descendant of enslaved Africans brought to North America, made history in 2015 when he became the first person of color to hold the position of presiding bishop. Throughout his nine-year term, evangelism, racial reconciliation and creation care have been priorities for The Episcopal Church, and core tenets of Curry’s vision of the Jesus Movement.

I don’t care who you are, how the Lord has made you, what the world has to say about you. If you’ve been baptized into Jesus, you’re in the Jesus Movement and you’re God’s,” Curry said when he preached at the 2015 General Convention’s closing Eucharist as presiding bishop-elect.

Curry has presided at many large public revivals in dioceses around the church as part of the church’s call to evangelism. The revivals are gatherings that combine prayer, worship and live music that give participants a chance to renew their faith and share it with others.

The next revival will take place June 22 at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville to kick off General Convention. The revival will be an opportunity for participants to thank Curry for his service as presiding bishop. The event will be live streamed here.

The Episcopal Church has intensified its racial reconciliation efforts in recent years, much of which has been spearheaded by Curry and the church’s long-term commitment to becoming the Beloved Community.

Two notable examples:

  • General Convention and Executive Council established research and advocacy groups to assess the church’s historic role in operating Indigenous boarding schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • In 2019, The Episcopal Church launched Sacred Ground, a 10-part film-based discussion that initially was developed as a resource primarily for white Episcopalians to learn about the history of racism in the United States and how that racism continues to manifest itself today in American social interactions and institutions, including churches.

Also notable, since Curry became bishop, an Episcopal delegation has participated in the United Nations Conference of Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP, every year to advocate for stronger public and private actions to help solve the global climate crisis. Since 2014, The Episcopal Church has held U.N. observer status, which allows delegates to brief U.N. representatives on the church’s climate policy priorities and to attend meetings in the official zones. In July 2022, The Episcopal Church’s General Convention committed the church to carbon neutrality in all its facilities and operations by 2030. Some parishes have already accomplished that goal.

The Union of Black Episcopalians hosted a banquet in tribute to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during the last night of its annual business meeting and conference June 21, 2024, at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. During the banquet, Curry “testified” during a mock trial akin to a roast in reverse. Several people, including Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson, Virginia Assistant Bishop Gayle Harris and others, lightheartedly asked Curry if he admitted to various accomplishments he’s made during his tenure as presiding bishop. Curry was found “guilty” of all “charges.” Photo: Shireen Korkzan/ENS

“[The Jesus Movement] reminds us that we are united with other parts of the church. We are not the church; we’re part of the church, Virginia Assistant Bishop Gayle Harris told ENS.

“We’re part of something bigger than ourselves, and we need to not only acknowledge it, we need to share that whole ministry with the rest of the church, whether that’s Protestant or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, nonsectarian, whatever. All of this is the Jesus Movement when it’s talking about love and not hate.”

During the banquet, Curry sat in front of Tyrone Yates – a municipal court judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, a former senior warden of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Cincinnati and a UBE member – for a mock trial. Several people, including Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson, Harris and others, lightheartedly asked Curry if he admitted to various accomplishments he’s made during his term. The question topics ranged from Curry’s work as co-chair of the national NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund Campaign Advisory Committee and board member of Episcopal Relief & Development, to the famous celebrities he’s met as presiding bishop. Curry also “admitted” to preaching about the power of love at Prince Harry and then-Meghan Markle’s wedding. Millions of people worldwide watched the wedding. Curry’s viral 13-minute sermon caught the attention of NBC’s Saturday Night Live,” which dressed up cast member Kenan Thompson as Curry for a short parody during the “Weekend Update” sketch on May 19. Curry was found “guilty” of all “charges.”

“Bishop Curry deserves to be honored, and this is the exact kind of place where he’s going to get the recognition of people who truly love him and appreciate his ministry of these last nine years,” Miriam McKenney, the Diocese of Southern Ohio’s dismantling racism director, told ENS. “He taught us that we must focus on following Jesus, not worshiping Jesus.”

The banquet concluded with the Rev. Kim Coleman, UBE’s current president and rector of Trinity Episcopal church in Arlington, Virginia, presenting Curry with a $10,000 check. Curry said all the money will be donated to Episcopal Relief & Development and Episcopal Migration Ministries. Coleman also granted Curry and Sharon Jones, executive coordinator to the presiding bishop, lifetime UBE membership.

Established in 1968 as the Union of Black Clergy and Laity, UBE has more than 55 chapters and interest groups throughout the continental United States and the Caribbean, though some members live in Africa, Canada and Latin America.

 -Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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