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Setting precedents
Preacher with ‘exceptional gifts’ becomes first black, Lutheran curate at Tulsa Episcopal church


Rev. Joseph Alsay  
It is traditional for Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Okla., to have curates, but last summer, Trinity made a bit of church history when the Rev. Joseph Alsay joined the downtown parish as a curate. He is African-American and Lutheran.

“This momentous event is possible,” said the church’s rector, the Rev. Stephen McKee, “because the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have a full exchange of ministers and sacraments.”

One church in Oklahoma has an Episcopal priest serving a Lutheran congregation, McKee said, but Trinity will be one of the few churches with a Lutheran minister on staff. That Alsay is an African-American serving in a predominantly white parish is even more unusual. He is the first black member of the clergy to serve at Trinity.

Alsay didn’t come to Trinity because of his denomination or his race, McKee said. “He brings exceptional gifts. He is outgoing and evangelical. He is a native Tulsan with solid roots in the black community. He brings diversity to our parish. Furthermore, he understands and appreciates the Episcopal liturgy.”  Alsay’s responsibilities include developing parish hospitality and evangelism. As part of the pastoral staff, he preaches and teaches classes.

Ordained in cathedral

Being “a first” is nothing new to the curate. When he was ordained Aug. 6 at the Episcopal cathedral in Philadelphia, it was said he was the first Lutheran to be ordained in an Episcopal cathedral. When he served at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Tulsa while attending Phillips Theological Seminary, he was the first licensed minister of the Word and Sacraments in the Arkansas and Oklahoma Synod.

His ordination in Philadelphia was celebrated at noon, attended by three bishops and other clergy, including McKee. At 10 a.m. that same day, he was married in the cathedral to Cecelia Gray, a native of Philadelphia and a social worker. A reception was held between the services.

Alsay, 32, said he knew at age 5 that he wanted to be a preacher. He preached his first sermon at age 13 at the Progressive Baptist Church in Tulsa from the Genesis story of Abraham building altars.

The fledgling preacher was so short at that time that he had to stand on a stack of platforms and his voice, he said, was high-pitched. “My mother, with the sharp ears of a teacher, heard someone say, ‘That was more like a speech than a sermon. He didn’t have any hoop and holler.’ “I have hoop now,” Alsay said, “but I didn’t then.”

Although raised in the Baptist faith, he said he always had been attracted to a liturgical church. “At Oklahoma Baptist University, we attended chapel every day,” he said, “but Sundays  I bribed my roommate with a pizza to drive me to an Episcopal church.”