By Sam Prickett
In January, the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama elected the Rev. Glenda Curry as the state’s first female Episcopal bishop. It was a landmark vote, but for Curry, a Homewood resident and rector at All Saints Episcopal Church, it was more about her qualifications than anything else.
“In my mind, what was more important was that I wanted to be qualified for what I would be facing,” she said. “I knew I had a lot of experience to bring to it.”
Curry’s experience in the Episcopal church started in her late teens; she grew up “basically unchurched” before being baptized in a Baptist church at age 16. While in college at the University of South Carolina, she started attending Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia and was transfixed, in particular by one Christmas Eve service.
“I saw the music and the liturgy, the Eucharist, and I was transported at that point – captured by the worship,” she said. “From then on, I went to the Episcopal church.”
Eventually, she moved to Montgomery, becoming president of Troy University’s campus there.
“But in that process, I became aware that, in spite of the great job I had, in spite of the work that was very challenging, I kept feeling like I was in the wrong place,” she said. “I went to my priest at St. John’s in Montgomery to talk to him about that feeling, and during that conversation over the course of the next 18 months, I figured out with his help that I was experiencing a call to ordained ministry.”
Curry was encouraged in her calling by civil rights activist Rosa Parks, whom she met while spearheading efforts to build a library and museum at Troy in Parks’ honor.
“When I talked with her about going to seminary, which I did at the end of my time as president, she was very supportive of it and excited for me to do that,” Curry said. “She was a very godly person and felt herself that her mission and her activity was a call from God. … That was a great example for anybody who is trying to figure out what their purpose in life is.”
Curry left her job at Troy and entered seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee; after she graduated in 2002, she spent two years at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Leeds before moving to Homewood and taking up the position of rector at All Saints, where she has been ever since.
As bishop, Curry will oversee the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, “helping to guide it, nourish it, helping it to grow and be transmitted to the next generation,” she said. “The bishop is the sign to the other churches in the denomination of unity, of the fact that we are all united in our way of love, the way of Jesus, in our denomination.”
That includes making sure the tenets of Episcopal worship are adhered to across the approximately 90 churches in the diocese. “We call ourselves ‘the people of the prayer book,’” she said. “The bishop is the person that makes sure that those guidelines are clear and that people embrace them.” The bishop also oversees the diocese’s confirmation rituals, in which church members publicly affirm their faith.
It’s a job not far removed from her administrative role at Troy University’s Montgomery campus, a fact Curry hasn’t overlooked.
“I think there are a lot of similarities,” she said. “That’s often what God does. God will take everything you’ve ever done and then make you use more of it and stretch you. I think that’s what God’s doing with me. Everything I’ve ever done will be helpful and also will need adaptation to whatever challenges the church brings. In my experience, those are things that help you grow spiritually and deepen your life with God, which is exciting to me.”
Easing Into the Role
Curry won’t fully become the diocese’s bishop until January 2021; until then, she’ll share the role with the current bishop, the Rt. Rev. John McKee “Kee” Sloan, as he gradually moves toward retirement.
“I’ll be consecrated on June 27, and then immediately after my consecration, I’ll start visiting our parishes on Sunday and teaching and preaching and having confirmation in those places,” she said. “Until (January) I’ll work with Kee and we’ll do stuff together. … As someone said to me recently, I’m neither fish nor fowl at the moment. I’m a little bit of both.”
Becoming bishop means that Curry will have to leave her current role as Rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Homewood on April 19. She’s called All Saints home for the past 15 years, describing it as “a spectacular church (with) a loving, thriving community.”
When asked what she’ll remember the most from her time there, Curry doesn’t hesitate.
“I will look back on it as a time that was rich for working with people of all ages,” she said. “It was very much a blessing for me to work with the children … . If you go to All Saints, you can’t miss the children. We have so many every Sunday. That is a blessing of the Homewood community, but it’s also a product of a culture that welcomes the kids into the church. Even our oldest member loves to see the kids coming, even though they have to make accommodations sometimes.”
“I would look back on it as a time of great growth for me, a blessing and hopefully it was the same for them,” she continued. “They have cheered me on – not because they wanted me to leave, but because they felt God calling. They have stepped forward and said, ‘God’s calling us, too, and we need to support this, even though it means we’ll lose somebody we’re not really ready to lose yet.’ It’s selfless, sacrificial love in action, and it gives me encouragement.”