Barbara C. Harris, the country's first female Episcopal bishop, was honored at a ceremony yesterday that rang in the new academic year. She was honored as the 34th recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award, an award given by the Colleges to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humanity.
Bishop Harris has worked as a civil rights activist, Philadelphia County prison chaplain, and counselor to corporations on public policy issues and social concerns. She was also named executive director of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company and publisher of The Witness magazine.
In her address to students, faculty, staff and friends who filled Bristol Gymnasium, Harris used the platform to urge the audience to question the injustices suffered by those who live in poverty. “Ask the rhetorical questions that must be posed until somebody or somebodies begin to heed them,” Harris said.
“How do we begin to make some meaningful intervention to situations in which some people are trapped?” Harris' advice was to develop major partnerships between all stakeholders, invest in our communities and work to remove the obstacles that keep children and families from reaching their God-given potential.
“We must all look to the future with hope…I trust you will accept the challenge,” she concluded.
A native of Philadelphia, Harris graduated from the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising and Journalism, and worked in the public relations field for a number of years. She was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1980. In 1988, Harris was named suffragan (assisting) bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. A year later, she became the first woman ordained a bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
A member of the Union of Black Episcopalians and past president of the Episcopal Urban Caucus, Harris has represented the Church on several committees and commissions. She is a trustee of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and past vice president of Episcopal City Mission, an agency that acts on the behalf of the urban poor.
Harris attended Villanova University, studied at the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, England, and is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Foundation for Pastoral Counseling. She has received honorary degrees from numerous universities and theological schools, including Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Yale University, and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.