The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, the first black woman to serve as diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church, has released this statement about the death of Bishop Barbara Harris:
I have no experience of the Episcopal Church without Bishop Barbara Harris. The year she became the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion—1988—I had just finished college and was preparing to be baptized. I had a subscription to Episcopal Life, our old denominational monthly publication, and I read with wonder its stories about her as I was studying what it meant to be a Christian, to be an Episcopalian. Later, as I prepared for ordination, my practical theology was shaped by The Witness, a publication where Barbara served as publisher for years. Her ministry quite literally helped form my faith.
In the decades since then, I have watched Barbara from far and near. She was my friend and mentor, and having her participate in my consecration in 2017 was an extraordinary gift. Shortly after that, I was asked to offer an endorsement of a book of conversations between Barbara and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. In that moment, I understood with new force the privilege and responsibility of the legacy that I and so many of my sisters have inherited from her.
At General Convention in 2018, we celebrated the long and fruitful ministry of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus with a final Eucharist. Barbara was there, a living testament to where the church has been, how far we have come, and how far we still have left to go. All of us women who have the privilege to serve the church as bishops follow in her footsteps, and especially those of us who are her fellow daughters of the African diaspora. I give thanks that Barbara lived to see so many of us and to know that the church has come far enough to ensure that there will be more.
Through her fierce and fearless advocacy for God’s justice, Barbara cleared like a bulldozer the path for me and so many others to find our places in the church. May she rise in power, bathed in light and glory.
photo: Bishop Jennifer and Bishop Barbara Harris at the final Eucharist of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus at General Convention in 2018.