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My Take On: My Fellow Altar Boy, Newly Elected Leader of the Episcopal Church

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Image Caption: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (center), my brother Rev. Laughton “Denny” Thomas, and me/Photo by Charlene Clinton

By Ron Thomas

Many articles soon will be written about Bishop Michael Curry, who was overwhelmingly elected on June 27 as the first black presiding bishop of all Episcopal churches in the U.S. His priestly roots began as an altar boy at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo, and I’m proud to say that I knelt alongside him during many services there in the 1950s and ’60s. He will be installed as presiding bishop on Nov. 1.

Curry’s dad, Father Kenneth Curry, became the priest at St. Philip’s in 1957, when Michael was 4. My older brother Denny and I both were acolytes there when little Michael began joining us on Sunday mornings. I was the “boat boy” who carried incense in a container shaped like an ancient sailors’ vessel; Michael carried the spoon. As he grew, he was given more important roles.

During Saturday morning altar boy practice, we all frustrated our instructor, Mr. Godfrey, with our short attention spans, and afterward we chased each other and wrestled on the parish hall floor. A summer highlight was the annual paper drive, when we would scramble onto a rickety truck and drive to parishioners’ homes to pick up their discarded newspapers (and occasional naughty Playboy magazines).

His career has soared like an angel

Michael got no special treatment from us; he was in the middle of all of the action and mischief. But eventually he was attracted to the priesthood. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in 1978, and his career has soared like an angel ever since. He had been the Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for 15 years when he was elected to head this nation’s Episcopal Church by two landslide votes: he received 121 of 174 votes cast by the House of Bishops, then the House of Deputies affirmed their judgment with a vote of 800-12. Known as a dynamic speaker and progressive thinker, in Curry the church’s leaders chose wisely.

Although St. Philip’s is a very small church in Buffalo, it has produced at least a half-dozen priests, including my brother, who retired in 2014 after 35 years of wearing the vestments. But our fellow altar boy, Bishop Michael Curry, has nine more years of work to do as the leader of the nation’s nearly two million Episcopalians.