Harris Consecrated in Solemn Rite in Boston

Episcopal News Service. February 16, 1989 [89025A]

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 Episcopal Church.

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 chief consecrator.

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.