Three hours wasn’t nearly enough time Thursday for family, friends and congregants to honor Bishop Curtis E. Montgomery. But it was enough time to underscore the legacy he left behind.
Montgomery, who died last week at the age of 82 after a brief illness, was part of a contingent of pastors who founded churches in the city’s Hilltop neighborhood in the 1950s.
And with his death came the end of an era.
“I call them the fathers of our city,” Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said at Thursday’s celebration of life at Tacoma’s Life Center church. “The foundation they laid for us will last forever.”
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Montgomery, originally from Selma, Alabama, started the Greater Christ Temple Church in 1959 after settling in Tacoma with his wife, Elinor. He guided his congregation through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the gang and drug warfare of the 1980s.
The church started inside a rented old grocery store and cleaners, soon growing into a new building on South G Street and eventually expanding with a $3 million youth center across the way.
After retiring in 2008, Montgomery continued serving as Northwest regional bishop for his denomination, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, until last August.
Thursday’s ceremony welcomed dignitaries, pastors and members of the community who were touched by Montgomery’s passion for God and helping others.
The afternoon was heavy on celebration, mirroring the late bishop’s lively worship style.
Bishop Theodore L. Brooks Sr., second assistant presiding bishop for the Pentecostal Assemblies, stressed the importance of honoring Montgomery according to the church’s roots.
“He’s made it to the throne,” Brooks proclaimed to the energetic crowd, rising to its feet. “He feels bad for us, but he’s happy now.”
The service was filled with prayer, singing and dancing. There were few dry eyes after an emotional performance of “The High Place I’ll Bring Down” by Fetima Knox from the Bishop C.E. Montgomery Celebration Choir.
Montgomery is survived by his wife of 62 years, five sons, three daughters, 22 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two sons.
Some of those loved ones spoke Thursday, through laughter and tears.
Great-grandson Aaron Nurse said the bishop was a busy man but never missed family birthdays, graduations or sporting events. He treated everyone like family, he added.
“He wasn’t the average man,” Nurse said.
Granddaughter Alisha Tindall, who quit her job last year to care for her grandparents, said Montgomery was never one to showboat when he did good deeds.
“He just knew they needed to be done,” she said.
Son Michael Montgomery thanked everyone for the “overwhelming” outpouring of support, quipping that the service wasn’t brief like “Mother Montgomery” wanted.
“Yes, you all went over your three minutes. But it was good,” he said, laughing. “And I’m gonna go over my three minutes, too.”
But it was Elinor Montgomery who captured the tone of the service with three simple words uttered from the pews:
“All is well,” she said, ahead of enthusiastic applause.