Navigation key

The Article Archives
Topic: General Interest

2017_0205 Black History Month Notes

February 4, 2017
Parish Office
tweet this  share this on facebook  

Famous Black Episcopalians and Other Famous Black Ministers 

(Black Church History in other countries

The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, Haiti 

The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015; the first African-American to serve in that capacity. He is the Chief Pastor and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and chair of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.

Curry was born in Chicago and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., where his father, the late Rev. Kenneth Curry, was rector of an important African-American parish, St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Curry's mother, Dorothy, died when he was in junior high school, so his grandmother, who he described as a "rock-ribbed Baptist," helped raise him. He said her spirituality profoundly shaped him, and made for lively religious discussion between her and his father. He also saw an example in his father's activism, including his help organizing a boycott to desegregate Buffalo schools.

As an undergraduate in the 1970's at Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y., Curry planned to become a lawyer and eventually run for public office until he was overcome by a calling to the Episcopal priesthood. His father cautioned him that the ministry would not be an easy life, but Curry felt that as a religious leader, he could help bring about deeper, longer-lasting social change. He went on to earn a master's degree from Yale Divinity School, and then serve parishes in North Carolina, Ohio, and Maryland, before he was elected bishop of North Carolina in 2000. Throughout his ministry, Presiding Bishop Curry has been active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality.

During 2017 and 2018, Bishop Curry is scheduled to launch a series of revivals "that promise to stir and renew hearts for Jesus, to equip Episcopalians as evangelists, and to welcome people who aren’t part of a church to join the Jesus Movement." The revivals include multi-day public events in the Episcopal Dioceses of Pittsburgh, West Missouri, Georgia, San Joaquin, and Honduras before culminating in a "joint evangelism mission" with the Church of England in July 2018. Bishop Curry says “Now is our time to go. To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free. This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.”

Bishop Curry has authored numerous publications including columns for the Huffington Post and the Baltimore Times. His most recent book, Songs My Grandma Sang, was published in June 2015; Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus was his first book, in August 2013. He is married to the former Sharon Clement, and they have two daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth.

Taken from The Episcopal Church- The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry


Barbara Harris, Liberia

The Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, was the center of the Black protest movement in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, and it was to this church that Barbara Harris moved from her home church – St Barnabas Episcopal in Philadelphia. The Church of the Advocate afforded her fellowship and concord as she participated in the various civil rights protests in the 60’s, and then on to lend her support as crucifer at the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, (the controversial, first, and historic ordination of eleven females into the Episcopal priesthood) in 1974. The natural progression for Barbara Harris who loved and was dedicated to her church, and who stood boldly for what she believed in as a strong supporter of women’s rights, was to leave her position as chief public relations executive at Sun Oil Company and enter the ministry and be ordained a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1980. Rev Harris subsequently served at various positions including priest-in-charge at St. Augustine of Hippo in Norristown, Pennsylvania; chaplain at Philadelphia County Prisons, and as counsel to industrial corporations for public policy issues and social concerns. It was while she was executive director of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company from 1984 to 1988, where she wrote a monthly column for the progressive Episcopal magazine The Witness, that her powerful work as a writer elevated her stature in the worldwide Anglican community.

On February 11, 1989, despite the opposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, she was consecrated suffragan (assistant) bishop for the Diocese of Massachusetts, becoming the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church. As bishop, she continued her advocacy for women and ethnic minorities, spoke against those at the Lambeth Conference in 1999 who questioned the value of women priests, and welcomed the appointment of other women as bishops. She served among many other things as a member of the Union of Black Episcopalians and as a past president of the Episcopal Urban Caucus. Bishop Harris retired on November 1, 2002, after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

~ K. Henry 


Absalom Jones, Nigeria

Absalom Jones, abolitionist and clergyman came out of the Methodist movement in which he was an ordained minister, serving along with his life-long friend, and fellow minister Richard Allen at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal in Philadelphia. Together, their evangelistic efforts at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal met with overwhelming success, multiplying by ten-fold the Black congregants; racial tensions soared resulting in the historic Black Walk Out from St. George’s in 1787.

Jones and Allen then formed The Free African Society, a social, political and humanitarian organization to help widows, children, free Blacks and to assist in sick relief and burial expenses. In 1792, again under their dual leadership, The African Church was established - an outgrowth of The Free African Society. Both ministers wanted the church to be affiliated with the Methodist church, but a majority of the congregants wanted to align with the Episcopal Church.

Richard Allen withdrew with a part of the congregation to form the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and The African Church became the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, with Absalom Jones as its lay reader and deacon. In 1802, Absalom Jones was ordained as the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church.

Jones had been born into slavery, but learned to read at a young age. He was allowed to keep his wages, while still enslaved, enabling him to buy his wife’s freedom when they got married in 1770. He obtained his freedom in 1784, through manumission. Rev. Jones is listed in the Episcopal Calendar of Saints and is remembered liturgically on the dated of his death - February 13. The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia remains a vibrant congregation.

~ K. Henry 


Richard Allen, Jamaica

Richard Allen was the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). He was a first a preacher in the Methodist Church (along with his counterpart Absalom Jones) from 1784, but as his following of African Americans worshipers grew at the St. George’s Methodist Episcopal in Philadelphia, the church insisted that Blacks worship separately.

Disappointed by this practice of segregation and opposition, Allen led the Black worshipers from the church in 1787. Seven years later, in 1794, they formed their own Methodist congregation, which they called the African Methodist Episcopal church. In 1799, Allen became the first ordained Black minister in the Methodist Church, though his church, which by 1813 had 1,272 congregants, still needed to have the oversight of white elders of the denomination.

Eventually Allen would unite four African-American congregations of the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Salem, New Jersey; Delaware and Maryland. It was from this union that the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent black denomination in the United States, was formed. The AME Church remains the oldest and largest formal institution in Black America.

Allen was also an abolitionist, an educator, and a writer, and one of America's most active and influential black leaders. From 1797 until his death in 1831, Allen and Sara his wife operated a station on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves.

Allen is honored with a feast day, March 26, on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA). A stamp honoring Allen was issued by the United States Postal Service in February 2016, with a first-day ceremony in Philadelphia.

From Richard Allen(Bishop) at

Back to Top

Navigation Key

 Return to topics
 Return to articles