Episcopal Church’s Center for Racial Healing to Launch Social Justice Project Named After Barbara C. Harris, First Female Bishop in the Anglican Communion

Retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris leads the Diocese of Massachusetts in singing hymns during its 2014 electing convention. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Diocese of Massachusetts

The Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, an initiative of the Diocese of Atlanta that has served the past two years as a resource supporting The Episcopal Church’s racial reconciliation work, is about to expand its scope, and it will do so in the name of one of the church’s most heralded bishops.

On Nov. 16, the Episcopal educational center will launch the Bishop Barbara C. Harris Justice Project to strengthen the church’s efforts to address environmental injustice, health inequities, mass incarceration, the death penalty, inhumane immigration policies and other social justice issues.

Harris became the first female bishop in the Anglian Communion when she was consecrated as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1989. Now retired at age 89, she continues to be an inspiration to Episcopalians and an example of faithful commitment to justice work, making her a natural choice for this honor, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright said.

Harris is able to “thread the needle” of being both kind and candid, Wright told Episcopal News Service, exemplifying “how to talk in terms of inequity and to talk in terms of justice and where we’ve missed building relationships of Christian affection.” She has spoken forcefully on issues of race, gender and sexual orientation while remaining personable and affable, Wright said, “and you just don’t see that every day.”

Harris is scheduled to join the ceremonies next week in Atlanta, which will include a forum discussion, a commemorative dinner and a worship service, with Wright preaching, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The day will be both a celebration of Harris’ life and the starting point for the new justice project named for her.

“She totally embodies what this work is about, in her own journey and the way she has been living her life in the world as an advocate for justice and her courageousness and her trailblazing spirit,” said Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Atlanta-based Absalom Jones Center, which is located across the street from Morehouse College.

Meeks analogizes the Harris Justice Project as the center “spreading its wings.” So far, the center has assembled online resources, organized events, developed curricula, and led classes and a pilgrimage intended to help Episcopalians and Episcopal clergy members reckon with their own racial biases and need for healing, in the context of The Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community framework. Meeks sees the next step as connecting that spiritual journey to the outside world.

“The idea is that the justice project will be kind of the outreach arm of the center. A lot of our work has been focused on healing and inner work and we will continue doing that, but we are also getting ready to expand ourselves,” Meeks said in an interview with ENS. “Now that you’ve had some opportunity to heal, what do you do next?”

Much of the center’s ongoing racial healing work will build on the example of an inaugural pilgrimage that brought 20 Episcopal priests and deacons to Atlanta in May. The participants were selected from all 20 dioceses in the church’s Province IV, which encompasses all or part of nine states in the Southeast. Future pilgrimages will draw from a broader pool of participants, and the center hopes clergy members will return to their dioceses and parishes and mobilize Episcopalians to start their own journeys toward racial healing.

They also will be encouraged to consider how their faith calls them to work for justice on a range of social issues, Meeks said, because she thinks “racism is at the core of all those issues.”

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Source: Episcopal News Service