Barbara Harris urges seminary graduates to be part of the 'remnant of God'

May 27, 2002

Bishop Barbara Harris of Massachusetts, the first woman to be elected a bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, urged graduates from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific to look the future and to become part of the 'remnant of God' who will 'be vessels of God's love, instruments of reconciliation and channels of God's grace.'

Citing Isaiah, she noted that remnant of God 'will be more likely on the fringe of the established religions and its institutions. In the true prophetic tradition, the remnant will be a willing, suffering servant symbolizing not only the suffering of humanity, but itself suffering for the sake of others.'

She added, 'The comfortable pew, the safe religion, the tradition-bound faith have never been at the cutting edge of history, or of spiritual renewal,' she added.

Harris suggested that more encouragement be placed on the role of futurists, on 'those who would search out what the future would hold for the people of God' as contrasted to those 'whose primary desire is for a return to some imagined glory days of the past.'

Rooted in the future

The bishop told the graduates that 'Christian scripture and the faith in which it is rooted are about the future, not about the past,' adding that 'biblical promises are more important than biblical history.' She suggested that growing in faith 'is predicated on the necessity of change--not change for change's sake, which often is whimsical, meaningless and sometimes counter-productive,' but 'an inspired, Holy Spirit-directed change in order to create new life and a new future. We either control change, or we are controlled by it,' she said.

Harris told the graduates that they should be involved in renewal in both society and the church, calling it a 'central question for those about to enter ministry vocation,' explaining that the church as an institution 'now seems more concerned with internal peace, internal housekeeping and internal order than with trying to reconcile the world of humankind to each other and to God.'

There may be some institutional churches that have an 'absence of turmoil but I would suggest they also are marked by an increasing retreat from the world's problems and a deafness to the ceaseless cries of the poor and the oppressed.' Harris said that the graduates, however, can 'look to the future with hope' and 'embrace Christ and his Gospel in all their fullness. It means embracing and articulating an idealism which carries us into a future yet unborn, with hope, and at the same time a cynicism born of the memory of past and present failures of our dreams.' She added, 'We've come this far by faith, and we trust our God for the next step of the journey.' And being part of the remnant means committing 'to the words of that old spiritual, ‘I will go; I shall go, to see what the end will be.''

Hope and strength

The remnant of God, she concluded, 'lives and looks and speaks to the future in the minds of those who understand the struggle in the hearts of those who have dedicated their lives in the hopes of the people for whom it is waged, and in the strength of those who will carry it out. Pray to be in that number.'

Harris was consecrated 13 years ago and has served as suffragan bishop of Massachusetts. She has announced that she will retire later this year.

She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the seminary. Honorary degrees were also presented to Ann Stuart Lucas of Pacific Palisades, California, an educational benefactor; and the Rev. David W. Perry, who recently retired as deputy for ecumenical relations for the Episcopal Church. Perry was active in negotiations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that led to adoption of Called to Common Mission, the full communion agreement between the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches.

The May 24 commencement was the 108th at the seminary and 29 students received their Master of Divinity degree, three Master of Arts degrees, three Doctor of Ministry degrees, and four Doctor of Philosophy degrees. The Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees are conferred by the Graduate Theological Union in association with CDSP, both located at Berkeley.