The Right Reverend Barbara C. Harris
June 12, 1930-March 13, 2020
On Feb. 11— marked the 32nd anniversary of the historic consecration of Barbara Harris as the worldwide Anglican Communion’s first female bishop—Bishop Alan Gates and Bishop Gayle Harris remembered her as “a courageous pioneer, an outspoken prophet and an indefatigable champion of God’s justice and witness to God’s grace.”
She she served as Bishop Suffragan for 13 years. Our bishops remind us she remained an active part of diocesan life in her retirement years, “she was for us also a wise counselor and faithful companion. For three decades our diocesan gatherings were enlivened by her keen wit, consummate storytelling and impromptu musical accompaniment.”
On this the anniversary of her death, I remember her most fondly, and from the first I was in total awe of this pioneering woman. When I first saw her she was attending a Board of Trustees meeting at Episcopal Divinity School. There she was standing outside with cigarette in hand, in her fur coat, spiky heels and twinkle in her eye. She nodded at me, a first year seminarian being tongue-tied, trying to say hello to this legendary woman. I was wishing I too was a smoker, just so I could hang out with her.
I would get to know her through the years. She would ask about my son William, talk about driving past my house on her way to the beauty parlor, and general chit-chat. Through the years I would share glasses of red wine, dance with her to “Who let the Dogs Out,” help her tear communion bread after her stroke, order her an Uber, walk with her in Boston Pride, and hold a rainbow parasol over her to keep the sun off this pioneering woman.
What I appreciate the most is the courage she displayed when she was made the first female bishop in the entire Anglican Communion. She would face death threats, was urged to wear a bullet proof vest, and was mocked and celebrated at the same time. She would tell me that there was such resentment toward her that women would attempt to claw her with their painted fingernails as she offered them communion.
There are so many wonderful stories I could share (and a few I cannot!), but let me suffice it to say, I am glad to call Bishop Harris a model of Christianity in a broken world. I am glad I could call her friend.