Today, February 11th, marks the 23 anniversary of the consecration of Barbara Harris as a bishop of the Episcopal Church. She was the first female bishop ordained in the Anglican Communion.
Barbara Harris is a veteran of the civil rights movement, having marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960's. She helped registered black voters in Mississippi. She has also been outspoken for women's rights and the rights of gays and lesbians.
In 1974, she acolyted at ordination service for the first eleven women ordained in the Episcopal Church. In 1979 she was ordained a deacon, and as a priest in 1980. In 1989 she became the first female bishop of the Anglican Communion. She retired in 2003.
Speaking of her work as bishop, Harris said, "I certainly don't want to be one of the boys. I want to offer my peculiar gifts as a black woman...a sensitivity and an awareness that comes out of more than a passing acquaintance with oppression.”
I am a firm believer in ordaining women to the priesthood and consecrating them as bishops. I believe that there were female priests and bishops in the very early church. In any event, both male and female are made in the image of God (Gen 1.27). The image of God is Christ (Col 1.15), and therefore, women can image Christ at the altar as well as men. In the American Episcopal Church, this is now a long settled issue. For me, female clergy is a non-negotiable.
Today, we honor the witness of Barbara Harris, who has fulfilled a prophetic role in society and in the church, as an African-American Woman and a Bishop.