General Convention takes steps toward adding Bishop Barbara Harris to calendar of church saints

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 10, 2022
Barbara Harris

The Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris at her historic consecration service on Feb. 11, 1989. Photo: David Zadig/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] The historic consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris in 1989 will be added to The Episcopal Church’s calendar, and a commemoration of her life will be developed for possible future inclusion in the calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts as an Episcopal saint, under a resolution approved July 10 by the House of Deputies.

Harris was consecrated 33 years ago on Feb. 11, 1989, as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts, becoming the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. She retired in 2002 but remained an active and prominent figure in The Episcopal Church and a role model for younger generations of Episcopal leaders until her death March 13, 2020, at age 89. Harris also is remembered for her support of social justice causes and her part in the first wave of women to be ordained as Episcopal priests.

The 80th General Convention received 16 resolutions from dioceses proposing that the church expedite the addition of Harris to the calendar, which currently includes a long list of church and secular figures, from St. Francis of Assisi to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. There is no canonical requirement for waiting a certain time after a person’s death, but General Convention traditionally does not add people until they have been dead at least 50 years.

Exceptions, however, can be made with approval of General Convention. In 2018, for example the 50-year precedent was waived when the 79th General Convention approved the addition of Marshall, Pauli Murray and Florence Li Tim-Oi.

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music, presented the resolution. She cited the 16 proposals as demonstrating clear, widespread support for adding Harris to the calendar, however, “the committee was reluctant to set a precedent for an accelerated timetable.”

A compromise was reached in which the date of Harris’ consecration as bishop would be added to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, while a commemoration of her life would be referred to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to consider and research.

Several deputies spoke in favor of the compromise in Resolution C023.

“This is not happening … the way we expected it to happen,” Vice President Byron Rushing of the Diocese of Massachusetts said. “But we truly hope that this house will agree that we have to begin some part of that process at this convention.”

No one spoke against the resolution, and a vote by orders ended with 96% of clergy deputations in favor and 98% of lay deputations in favor.

The pandemic forced church leaders temporarily to shelve plans for large-scale, in-person memorial services honoring Harris. A large celebration of her life was held this year at Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston on June 12, which would have been her 92nd birthday. In addition, about 1,000 people watched the service on a livestream, and several other church in the Diocese held service at the same time in Harris’ honor.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at