Episcopalians will commemorate Bishop Barbara Harris virtually one year after her death

By Egan Millard
Posted Mar 9, 2021

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris at her historic consecration service on Feb. 11, 1989. Photo: David Zadig/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Episcopal News Service] One year after the death of the Anglican Communion’s first female bishop, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent the kind of in-person memorial service befitting her stature in The Episcopal Church, but celebrations of the life of the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris will be held virtually in the coming days around the church.

Harris, who served as suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts from 1989 to 2002 and assisting bishop in the Diocese of Washington from 2003 to 2007, died at age 89 on March 13, 2020, just as the COVID-19 outbreak began to prompt lockdowns in the United States. Her remains were interred in Pennsylvania in a small, private ceremony. At the time, the diocese announced that public memorial services would be held at Washington National Cathedral and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston when travel and indoor gathering restrictions were lifted. Those plans are still pending, according to the Diocese of Massachusetts.

The cathedral in Boston will host a compline service, with a reflection from Byron Rushing, vice president of the House of Deputies, from 8 to 9 p.m. EST on March 12. It is accessible by Zoom and free registration is required.

The Union of Black Episcopalians, of which Harris was a member, will hold a remembrance from 4 to 5 p.m. EDT on March 14, with readings of Harris’ writings, personal remembrances and a panel discussion with the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, and other guests. It is accessible by Zoom and free registration is required.

The Diocese of Western Massachusetts will hold a morning prayer service in Harris’ memory on March 13 at 10 a.m. EST via Facebook Live and YouTube. Planned by the diocese’s Beloved Community Commission, it will include “soul-stirring music and collects created especially for the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion.”

The Diocese of Los Angeles will host a service of lessons and spirituals on March 13 from 5 to 6 p.m. PST. Bishop John Taylor will preside at the service, which will include readings, reflections and music and will be streamed on Facebook Live and YouTube.

Barbara Harris

Retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris leads the Diocese of Massachusetts in singing hymns during its 2014 electing convention. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Diocese of Massachusetts

Recalling her as “a courageous pioneer, an outspoken prophet, and an indefatigable champion of God’s justice and witness to God’s grace,” Massachusetts Bishop Diocesan Alan Gates and Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris last month invited Episcopalians to include remembrances of Harris in their prayers and liturgies during March, publishing a collect, sermons, suggested propers and other resources.

“It has ever been the delight of the faithful to recollect with gratitude the lives of those in whom Christ’s love has been manifest,” the bishops said in their invitation. “We commemorate their lives for the inspiration and strength which we derive from their witness. We turn to them also as continuing companions in the Spirit, forebears of whose love and prayers we remain assured.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.