Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Thursday, 13 July 2000  

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Bishop Harris moves the room at Caucus breakfast

Early Sunday morning, five hundred people eavesdropped on a conversation between the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris (Suffragan, Massachusetts) and God.

The ballroom at the Hyatt served as her "prayer closet" as Bishop Harris stood before the annual gathering of the Episcopal Women's Caucus, interrupted by frequent standing ovations, outbursts of laughter and murmurs of "Amen!"

Harris began her conversation with God in vintage wry form by, saying, "Well, God, here we are again at that legislative, meditative marathon where anyone who ever imagined they had an original thought other than going to the bathroom puts it in the form of a resolution."

In a speech full of reflection as she nears her retirement, she thanked God for "the women of the churchwho have supported other women in their ministries." She mentioned the "women who fought to be deputies, finally taking their seats in 1970," to Caucus members "who took such good care of us at Lambeth 1998, to those women who make so much ministry possible through UTO grants."

She gave thanks for the Philadelphia Eleven, "who 26 years ago this month said `yes' to your call to the priesthoodand in so doing took on the wrath of this church." It was July 29, 1974, and she said if stoning still had been legal, "those women would have been stoned to death in the marketplace."

She gave thanks for sharing ministry with Bishop Tom Shaw,and for "slugging it out" with men in the corporate world, which "prepared me to withstand battle fatigue in UBE and the Caucus of Black clergy" in the fight for racial justice in the church.

"I'm grateful for the Caucus theme this year --- `Justice IS Orthodox Theology' because I am truly tired of those who think they have cornered the market on revealed truth," she said to cheers.

Speaking with humor that barely masked pain, she told of enduring the rigors of anordination process that "toughened my little skinny black hide and enabled me to sit in the House of Bishops like the skunk at the garden party, until I was joined by my sister Jane Dixon, then Mary Adelia and then all the rest. So now we are eight, not yet a critical mass, but hard to ignore. Eight is good but sixteen would be better."

She told of being reduced to tears at General Convention in Phoenix in 1991 by a bishopwho castigated another bishop for ordaining a homosexual. He then turned to her and said how surprised he was that she had "behaved." "Now I don't know how I was expected to act a fool, but I was hurt, embarrassed and humiliated before that whole house," she said to the hushed room. Not one other bishop rose to defend her, so at the recess "I went looking for the guy to tell him how he had made me feel. I have to confess that my eyes were so filled with tears that I couldn't find him. I went out into the hall and smoked a cigarette to compose myself. I'm telling you, Lord, I was so grateful to have a whole women's restroom to myself."

As a deputy in 1979, Harris said she tried to amend the resolution that said it was "not appropriate" to ordain homosexuals or heterosexuals who had sex outside marriage by replacing the word "not" with "no longer." "All I was trying to do was get us to recognize that ordination of gays was not new," wondering out loud when Convention would deal with world hunger, real violence, international debt relief and the AIDS pandemic.

She praised God that things are getting better, however. She told of a diocese which, after her election as bishop, put her photograph on their front page with a black slash across it like a no-smoking sign and ran an article entitled "The wrong woman at the right time."

"Just a fewweeks ago, I wasback in that same diocese for the consecration of a black man as bishop," she said. She predicted afemale Presiding Bishop will be elected far sooner than anyone thinks, that "women and marginalized people will continue to show the church how to be church," that they will continue to remind the church that witness and ministry "do not hinge on the approval of an institution, that we do not have to be anointed to do what You have called us to do."

She reminded the gathering that while "God's remnant" mightnotlook the same in the 21st Century as it did in the 1960 or 1970s, God will make it again "into a new vessel and that new vessel is one person, and that one person can make a difference."

She closed by quoting an old hymn, "My soul looks back in wonder how I got over.' You brought me a mighty long way and I thank you, Jesus." Prior to Harris' presentation, the Rev. Cynthia Black and Sally Bucklee, former Caucus presidents, presented Pamela Chinnis, the first female president of the House of Deputies, with a poster of the historic photo of the eleven female bishops taken at Lambeth. Caucus secretary John Vanderstar announced the name change of the Caucus' recently established Leadership Fund to the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris Leadership Fund.

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