During Women’s History Month, many prominent, active females are honored.
Among them is Bishop Barbara Harris, a woman that did much for the city of Philadelphia.
Harris is well-known for becoming the first woman to be made a bishop by any of the three branches of Christianity: Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Barbara Clementine Harris grew up in the church.
As a teenager, she started a youth group that attracted about seventy members and became the largest youth group in Philadelphia.
After graduating from Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1948, Harris began working for a black-owned public relations firm in Philadelphia.
Harris was very active in her church, St. Barnabas in Germantown.
She was a member of the St. Dismas Society, a group that visited local jails to hold services and befriend the prisoners.
Harris was also a member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
In 1960, Harris, sensing a lack of vitality in her church, joined the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.
This church became the center of the black protest movement in Philadelphia.
Five years later, Harris and her congregation joined Martin Luther King Jr. on his Selma march.
The church hosted a Black Panther convention three years later, where 10,000 panthers were in attendance.
Harris served in the vestry, helped the poor in the surrounding community, volunteered in the soup kitchen and helped desegregate a Philadelphia orphanage.
Harris expressed an interest to become a minister, but at the time women were not allowed to be ordained as a priests in the Episcopal Church.
Harris, among others, believed that the policy was outdated.
In 1974, three retired bishops ordained 11 female deacons as priests, and two years later the policy changed.
In 1979, Harris was ordained a deacon, and in 1980 was ordained a priest.
Harris served as priest at St. Augustine of Hippo Church in Philadelphia for four years and as chaplain at Philadelphia County Prison.
In 1984 she was appointed as executive director of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company.
This brought her national attention as the editor of the Witness, a left-wing church journal.
In 1988 Harris was elected bishop, thus becoming the first woman to be elected to this position.
In 1989 she was consecrated suffragan (assistant) bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
According the Episcopal Church’s official Web site, Harris left Massachusetts last November to return to Philadelphia. Beginning this summer, Harris will serve as Washington’s assisting bishop.
Despite all its strides, Harris still believes the church has room to grow.
“I would like to see the church come to some better understanding of what it means to be an inclusive fellowship, how to more fully exhibit the love of Christ in the world,” Harris told the Gale Group Web site.
Roshida Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.