Julia Ayala Harris implores Episcopalians to continue charting a new course

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Jul 11, 2022

[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] Preaching during Morning Prayer on July 11, House of Deputies President-elect Julia Ayala Harris heralded the election of two women of color to be the deputies’ top two leaders, and urged worshippers to continue examining faith norms, systems and structures, “because The Episcopal Church has so much to give to the world.”

“People are looking for acceptance, belonging, healing and wholeness,” she said in a pre-recorded sermon greeted with applause. “When we are at our very best, we can share that with the world. This week, The Episcopal Church committed itself and its resources to the reckoning with its past, in order to create a more just, inclusive and authentic future.”

Referring to the July 10 election of the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton as vice president of the House of Deputies, she added: “This week The Episcopal Church elected a vice president who is an Indigenous woman, during a time when we are reckoning with our Indigenous boarding school past.”

A day earlier, deputies elected Ayala Harris—“a little brown girl”—as president, she said.

Preaching about Jesus telling his disciples that new wine cannot be put into old wineskins, or it will cause them to burst, Ayala Harris recalled growing up in Chicago in the 1980s and seeing purple violets growing in the cracks between different colored bricks in a back patio, a metaphor she compared with the church.

“The bricks were all different sizes and shapes and colors, and they all came together to form a perfectly square patio.” She was only 3 or four 4 old, but “I already had this concept that things that grow in the cracks are considered weeds and that weeds are bad, and yet these purple violets were allowed to grow in such a way that brought them truly to life, a living and breathing ecosystem.”

She added: “I had to wrestle with this concept at a very young age. I was told by society, culture, adults, who presumably knew best, that things that grow in cracks are weeds and should be pulled out and destroyed. But, at that tender age, I understood violets were precious. They were not weeds that need to be destroyed, but flowers that need to be cared for and loved. They brought the patio to life.

“Now, as an adult, I understand that my grandmother allowed those violets to grow. She could have pulled them out and she did not. I can’t help but think today about our church

In some ways, the church may be compared to the patio, with different colored and shaped bricks, “yet we have guidelines and rules in such a way that sometimes we forget that when we find purple velvety violets growing in the cracks, that those are gifts to us.

Those violets are telling us that there is more of life to be had.”

She challenged worshippers to look at ministries growing between the “cracks” of the church, “ministries that could be replanted in an area where they could be given more sun and soil and fertilizer so they could grow, so they could be better resourced. If we could do that, I think we would find our congregations and our structures would be more aligned with how Jesus has intended our garden to grow.”

Noting that The Episcopal Church “has been the civic religion of the white upper class since the founding of the republic,” she added: “I am here to tell you today that this approach has taken us as far as we can go. New wineskins mean doing ministry among what we have previously socially constructed as weeds … charting a different course.

“The Episcopal Church used to be the divider of the weeds and now we need to look for the flowers in the cracks. Or, as Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, you do not put new wine into old wineskins. They will burst. You do not pull out the violets. You water them. Feed them. Fertilize them. Nurture them. Now is when we as The Episcopal Church commit ourselves to crafting the new wineskins.”

Ayala Harris will begin her first three-year term as president when the final gavel sounds in the House of Deputies on July 11.

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for ENS, based in Los Angeles.