Barbara Harris, First Woman Ordained an Episcopal Bishop, Dies at 89

From The New York Times:

Her groundbreaking election angered many conservatives. She even received death threats.

By Emily Brennan
March 17, 2020

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, who was the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States — indeed, in its parent body, the worldwide Anglican Communion — an election that caused a furor among conservatives, died on Friday in Lincoln, Mass., outside Boston. She was 89.

Her death, at a hospice, was confirmed in a statement by the bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates. He did not give a cause.

Ms. Harris served as suffragan, or assistant, bishop of the Massachusetts diocese from 1989 until her retirement in 2002, and in some ways she was an unlikely candidate for the role. She had neither a bachelor’s nor a seminary degree, and she was divorced — a profile that some critics said made her unfit for election, regardless of gender. Others feared that she was too progressive for the church.

An African-American, she went on to challenge the Episcopal hierarchy to open its doors wider to women as well as to black and gay people.

Her election in 1988 caused turmoil both in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, an international family of 46 autonomous churches that includes the Church of England.

Some Episcopalians, objecting to her political views and theological stances, declared that they would not recognize her position and campaigned against her.

She even faced death threats. For her consecration as bishop, on Feb. 11, 1989, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the Boston police offered her a bulletproof vest to wear. Ms. Harris declined.

Years later, in a 2002 interview with the National Visionary Leadership Project, she shrugged off the furor. “Nobody can hate like Christians,” she said.

She often criticized the church as being too dogmatic — as worrying over the particulars of canon law instead of preaching inclusivity, a truer reflection of Christ’s teachings, she believed.

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