Growing up with the future Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry gives waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Washington National Cathedral.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry gives waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Washington National Cathedral. AP

Tears of joy flowed as a group of childhood friends witnessed a history-making event. Our friend, Michael Curry, was about to become the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church last November.

He would be the first African-American to hold the position.

A group of us, mostly raised in Buffalo, N.Y., traveled to attend the service at the Washington National Cathedral. There were family, friends, Episcopal clergy and church members from around the globe.

As children, Michael, his sister, Sharon, and I attended St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo. Their dad, Father Kenneth Curry, led the church and was involved in the community. We had an active youth group. Some of us launched a movement seeking the right for females to wear pants to church.

Fast forward a few decades. I met Kevin Patterson, whom I ultimately would marry, in Charlotte. We both were from Buffalo and discovered we had a mutual friend – Michael Curry. Michael and Kevin had remained best friends since high school.

In 1988, Michael presided over our marriage – in Buffalo. By that time, Michael was an Episcopal rector near Cincinnati, Ohio.

During their high school years, Michael, Kevin and David Edmunds, an attorney who still lives in Buffalo, formed a lasting bond. As teenagers, they took on leadership positions and fought for changes in the school system.

“All three of us came from families who believed you had to do something positive with your life,” Michael told me the day after his installation. “We had an interest in doing something that had a positive impact for people who were marginalized. It wasn’t justice in the abstract, it was redressing the wrongs in society, making them right. … And we still do. I think it was God giving us that passion for righting the wrong in the world.”

As a teenager, Michael set a goal to become a priest. “I could never have imagined this as a child,” Michael said.

During his installation sermon, Michael told of how in the late 1940s an engaged African-American couple visited an Episcopal church near Dayton, Ohio. The man was Baptist and attended a seminary outside of Chicago. His future wife was Episcopalian. After she was served communion out of the same cup as the white congregants, with love and respect, the man was moved to become an Episcopal priest. Michael ended the story by saying, “They were the parents of the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.”

Michael, who is back at work after suffering subdural hematoma in December and undergoing surgery, preached his sermon in the style and cadence of a Baptist minister. He focused on the importance of loving your neighbor regardless of differences.

“We are all God’s children. We’re a part of a Jesus movement to change this world with the power of love,” Michael said in the sermon. “That love will turn the world upside down. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer: