BOSTON (DPS, Feb. 16,) -- Surrounded by the outstretched hands
of 55 bishops, the Rev. Barbara C. Harris was consecrated as the first
woman bishop in the Anglican Communion and the 834th bishop of the
Episcopal Church in the United States.
In a three-hour service highlighted by spontaneous outbursts
of applause and cheers from the estimated 7,500-member congregation in
Hynes Auditorium, Harris confidently answered, "I am so persuaded"
when Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning asked her, "Are you persuaded
that God has called you to the office of bishop?"
Harris, 58, was elected as suffragan bishop in the Diocese of
Massachusetts on September 24, 1988. Following a long and at times
controversial consent process, her election received the majority of
consents needed from the House of Bishops on January 3.
The tone of the day was expressed by the Rev. Gerald Porter,
provost of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Boston, who served as master of
ceremonies. He told a press briefing before the service, "She breaks
all of the stereotypes. This is indeed a new day." The accompanying
service expressed this very well, through the music, the sermon, and
the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer.
Accompanied by tambourines and organ and voice improvisations,
Harris stood before the consecrating bishops, clapping her hands and
swaying to the spiritual "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" sung by the African
Methodist Episcopal choir from Cambridge. The congregation in the
cavernous exhibition hall joined her in singing and clapping to the
swinging gospel tune. This was a time of rejoicing in Harris's rich
black heritage, and the congregation buzzed with enthusiasm.
Indeed, several observers noted the service marked a new high
point for black Episcopalians, and especially for the Diocese of
Massachusetts, which broke an earlier barrier in 1969 by electing the
Rt. Rev. John Burgess as the first black diocesan bishop in the
One of the touching scenes was the participation of the Rt.
Rev. Lyman Ogilby, retired Bishop of Pennsylvania, one of the five
co-consecrating bishops. Ogilby had ordained Harris deacon and priest
in Philadelphia when he was diocesan bishop. The other co-consecrators were the Rt. Rev. Allen Bartlett, Jr., Bishop of Pennsylvania;
the Rt. Rev. David Johnson, Bishop of Massachusetts; and the Rt. Rev.
John Walker, Bishop of Washington. As Presiding Bishop, Browning was
Two protests were voiced about the consecration during the
early part of the service. One protest was lodged by John Jamieson,
president of the Chicago Chapter of the Prayer Book Society, who
called the service a "pretended consecration" and a "sacrilegious
imposture," saying the consecration was not valid according to the
Constitution of the Episcopal Church. The second protest was lodged
by the Rev. James Hopkinson Cupit, Jr., of the Diocese of New York,
who warned that consecration would "impair communion" with other
Anglican and ecumenical churches. Both protests were heard amidst
some obvious vocal dissent by the congregation.
Browning asked the congregation to respect the right of the
speakers to be heard before responding to the objectors. He said that
the issues raised had already been examined and that Harris's election
had affirmed according to the canons of the Episcopal Church. "The
service will proceed," he announced, as the crowd jumped to its feet
in cheers and applause.
Following the Litany for Ordinations, lessons, and a lengthy
and inspiring sermon by the Rev. Paul Washington, retired rector of
the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, Harris's home parish, Harris
answered the unaltered questions of examination in the Book of Common
Prayer, most of which had a new and profound meaning for the
participants. Harris pledged to "boldly proclaim and interpret the
Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the
conscience of your people," and to "guard the faith, unity and
discipline of the Church." She also affirmed her willingness to
"share with your fellow bishops in the government of the whole
Church" and to be "merciful to all, showing compassion to the poor and
strangers and defend those who have no helper."
As the attending bishops surrounded her before the altar,
Harris knelt and was enveloped in a sea of outstretched arms as the
Presiding Bishop led the prayer of Consecration. One of the most
poignant moments in the service came when Harris was vested with the
symbols of office: a pectoral cross, a Bible, Eucharistic vestments,
and a cope and mitre. As Browning placed the mitre on her head, the
congregation again broke into applause, as it did when Johnson,
diocesan bishop of Massachusetts, handed her a bishop's crozier,
saying, "Be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for
the entire flock of Christ."
Following an emotional passing of the Peace, in which her
mother, Beatrice Harris, and her brother and sister were brought to
the platform, Harris proceeded with the celebration of the Eucharist.
She was joined at the altar by, among others, the Rev. Florence Li
Tim-Oi, the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion in
Macao in 1944; and the Rev. I. Carter Heyward, one of the first women
ordained priest in the Episcopal Church in 1974 and one of the
"Philadelphia 11" who was ordained prior to canonical recognition of
the ordination of women.