Curry says in his autobiography that both sides of his family were descended from slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina and Alabama. He was born in Chicago and attended public schools in Buffalo, New York. He graduated with high honors from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, in 1975. He then earned a Master of Divinity degree, in 1978, from the Yale Divinity School. Curry has also studied at The College of Preachers, Princeton Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University, the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, and the Institute of Christian Jewish Studies.
Curry was ordained deacon at St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, New York by the Rt. Rev. Harold B. Robinson in June 1978 and priest at St. Stephen's, Winston-Salem, North Carolina by the Rt. Rev. John M. Burgess in December 1978. He served initially as deacon-in-charge and subsequently as rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (1978–1982) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; then as rector of St. Simon of Cyrene Episcopal Church in Lincoln Heights, Ohio (1982–1988). He served as rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland (1988–2000). In his three parish ministries, Curry participated in crisis response pastoral care, the founding of ecumenical summer day camps for children, preaching missions, creation of networks of family day care providers, and the brokering of investment in inner city neighborhoods. He inspired a $2.5 million restoration of the St. James' church building after a fire.
Curry was elected eleventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina on February 11, 2000, and consecrated bishop on June 17, 2000, at Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University in Durham. The consecrators were Robert Hodges Johnson, J. Gary Gloster, and Barbara C. Harris.
As a diocesan bishop, he served on the board of directors of the Alliance for Christian Media and chaired the board of Episcopal Relief and Development. He also had a national preaching and teaching ministry and was a frequent speaker at services of worship and conferences around the country.
Throughout his ministry in North Carolina, Curry was also active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality. Curry also instituted a network of canons, deacons, and youth ministry professionals to support preexisting ministries in local congregations. Curry also led the Diocese of North Carolina to focus on the Episcopal Church’s Millennium Development Goals through a $400,000 campaign to buy malaria nets that saved over 100,000 lives.
On May 1, 2015, the joint nominating committee for the election of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church nominated Curry and three other bishops as candidates for 27th presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. The election occurred on June 27, 2015, at the 78th General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City. Curry was elected by the House of Bishops meeting in St. Mark's Cathedral on the first ballot with 121 of 174 votes cast. Laity and clergy in the House of Deputies ratified Curry's election later the same day. Curry was installed as presiding bishop and primate on November 1, 2015, All Saints' Day, during a Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The service included readings in Spanish and Native American languages.
Among Curry's first acts as presiding bishop was placing three senior staff at Episcopal Church headquarters on administrative leave due to misconduct pending investigation for violating workplace policies on December 9, 2015. In April 2016, Curry followed-up by dismissing deputy chief operating officer Sam McDonald and director of public engagement Alex Baumgarten. Bishop Stacy Sauls was removed as chief operating officer but remained a bishop. When announcing the staff dismissals, Curry publicly stated:
...Our task as staff is to serve The Episcopal Church in such a way that it can serve the world in the Name and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We are therefore all called to strive for and adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct embodying the love of God and reflecting the teachings and the way of Jesus.
The precise nature of the alleged misconduct was never disclosed nor were criminal charges filed.
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.
In January 2016, Primates in the Anglican Communion gathered at Canterbury Cathedral, mother church of the global Anglican Communion, at the invitation of the Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was the first such meeting attended by Michael Curry as presiding bishop. Human sexuality and the Episcopal Church's July 2015 approval of same-sex marriage rites were prominent topics of discussion.
The primates in attendance unanimously resolved to walk together before a majority of Anglican Primates also publicly sanctioned the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, demanding that it “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
In the aftermath of sanctions, Curry maintained his public support for marriage equality stating:
Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ. For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.
As part of the final communique from the gathering, the Anglican Primates announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury would appoint a "task group" aimed at healing the rift and rebuilding of mutual trust amidst deep differences. The Archbishop of Canterbury named Curry as one of the 10 members of that "task group" in May 2016.
In October 2016, Curry represented the Communion as part of a delegation of Anglican Primates to the Vatican led by Archbishop Justin Welby. The leaders joined together in an ecumenical vespers service led jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Roman Pontiff followed by a private meeting between Pope Francis and the Anglican Primates. The events honored the fiftieth anniversary since then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI met in 1966, the first such meeting since the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The meeting also celebrated the fiftieth anniversary since the Anglican Centre in Rome was established. Curry emphasized the need for Christian cooperation publicly stating:
[the] mission of the church is to help the human family, with all its variety and all its diversity and all its differences, to find a way to become not simply a disparate community but a human family of God. Dr. Martin Luther King said it this way, ‘we shall either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we’ll perish together as fools.’ The choice is ours, chaos or community.
Curry's presence in Rome was criticized by Nicholas Okoh, Archbishop of Nigeria and chairman of the traditionalist group GAFCON. Okoh publicly stated Curry's invitation was a violation of sanctions established by Anglican Primates during their January 2016 gathering in Canterbury.
Curry has received honorary degrees from the School of Theology-Sewanee, Virginia Theological Seminary, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, the Episcopal Divinity School, and the Seminary of the Southwest. Curry was appointed a member of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem by Elizabeth II on July 25, 2015.
Curry and his wife Sharon (née Clement) have two adult daughters.Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Morehouse Publishing. 2013. ISBN 978-0-8192-2886-4.
Songs My Grandma Sang. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Morehouse Publishing. 2015. ISBN 978-0-8192-2993-9.