Massachusetts celebrates the making of a new bishop suffragan

January 23, 2003

Nearly 1,500 bishops, clergy members, lay persons and ecumenical guests from across the country braved Boston's bitter cold to gather for the three-hour liturgy at which Gayle Elizabeth Harris became the 981st bishop in the American succession on Saturday, January 18 at Trinity Church in Boston. Harris, formerly of Rochester, New York, will serve as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts alongside diocesan bishop M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE and bishop suffragan Bud Cederholm.

Gayle Harris is the 11th woman--and the second African-American and third woman of color--to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church, out of a total of 14 female bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion. In the weeks preceding her ordination and consecration, the bishop-elect said she hoped the day would be a celebration of 'all of us coming together as the people of God who is in the midst of us, who loves us and forgives us, who calls us to do justice and love mercy.'

Before the service began, the 450-person procession stopped traffic and turned a few heads in Boston's Copley Square as it made its way from the vesting area at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel, through the adjacent shopping mall, then across a busy intersection and plaza into Trinity Church. The Rt. Rev. Arthur B. Williams Jr., recently retired bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Ohio and the vice president of the House of Bishops, was the chief consecrator.

In his sermon, Bishop Suffragan Chester L. Talton of the Diocese of Los Angeles, preached of a faithful God who 'desires to put things right for God's people.'

'Nations are at war with one another, it seems almost as never before, and we are preparing to engage in what I believe is an immoral war against a small nation whose leader is himself immoral towards his own people,' Talton said to applause from the congregation. 'Gayle, I think that God calls you to a time such as this, to speak to the powerful on behalf of those who hold little or no power.'

'Prayer is your life-line'

Perhaps the service's most poignant moment came when the Anglican Communion's first woman bishop, Barbara C. Harris--Massachusetts' recently retired suffragan, whom Gayle Harris succeeds--gave the bishop-elect her charge, speaking sister to sister of a shared heritage and the joys and challenges ahead.

'Your best efforts…will not always be understood or welcomed. Yet you must proclaim in word and action redemption, liberation, hope and love, but also judgment, reminding us that we cannot go back to the garden of Eden but that we must embrace the new age, not knowing what its final shape will be,' Barbara Harris said. 'But we have come this far by faith and we trust our God for the next step of the journey. You must not demur from urging us out of the comfortable pew and challenging us to seek the welfare of the city and suburbs alike. For the problems of the city quickly become those of suburban communities.

'In this complex and diverse diocese, on some days you will see your role with great clarity and you may be tempted to paraphrase Professor Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady' and say: ‘I've got it, by Jove I think I've got it.' And on others, probably more numerous I suspect, you will feel like you are trying to put pantyhose on an octopus.' The bishop's ring, mitre and crozier are only symbols, Barbara Harris said. 'Remember, my sister, it is prayer that is your life and prayer that is your life-line.'

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