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Leader of U.S. Episcopal Church part of Long Island diocese anniversary events

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry is participating in three days of meetings and religious services to mark 150th year of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, the first African-American to lead the Episcopal Church in the United States, is helping to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. On Thursday he talked about the importance of the church to its community.  (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

He is the first African-American to lead the Episcopal Church in the United States, and electrified millions around the world in May by delivering a memorable sermon at the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Now, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry is helping to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

Curry arrived Thursday to kick off the start of three days of meetings and religious services to mark the anniversary. He and other leaders, who are gathering at a hotel in Uniondale, said they plan to address a number of issues including immigration and the #MeToo movement.

In an interview, Curry said the Episcopal Church is dedicated to protecting the rights of immigrants, a group he said is increasingly under attack.

“I believe in an America defined by the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “America gives due process to those who come to her border seeking asylum, which we are not doing at this moment. We do have a process and there are international agreements, yet we are not living up to them.”

Organizers said the meeting is expected to attract hundreds of Episcopalian ministers and lay people from throughout the diocese, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.

The diocese is home to 129 parishes and an estimated 50,000 Episcopalians.

Curry’s presence has boosted interest far beyond past conventions, said Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, head of the diocese. A service scheduled for Saturday under a tent outside the Marriot hotel in Uniondale has already sold out all 1,400 tickets, he said, and there is a long waiting list of people who want to attend.

They may have to watch the service inside the hotel through a livestream video, Provenzano said.

The royal wedding has brought him a measure of unsought-after fame, Curry said, adding that he is often stopped by people for “selfies."

Curry said he was shocked by the invitation to give the sermon at the wedding, and initially thought it was a joke when an aide told him representatives of the royals had called.

“I thought he was pulling my leg,” Curry said. “I think I said something to him like, ‘Look, it’s not even April Fools' Day.’ He had to convince me eventually and then I realized it was true.”

In his sermon, Curry made references to Martin Luther King Jr. and slaves in the antebellum South of the United States. His presence was widely seen as reflecting Markle’s biracial background and interest in reaching out across racial lines.

Curry said it was an unforgettable experience, and yet the reception was like so many others he had attended with people mingling and eating.

“It was a normal wedding reception,” he said. “It happened to be a palace. The food was really good.”

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