In honor of Bishop Gayle E. Harris's 20 years of service as bishop suffragan, a new fund has been established to support leadership development for women of color in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Bishop Alan M. Gates announced the Bishop Gayle E. Harris Fund for Leadership Development for Women of Color during the recent Diocesan Convention, held Oct. 28-29 in Danvers--Harris's final one as bishop suffragan.
Harris, who has served as bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts since January 2003, announced on Sept. 29 that she will complete her work in the diocese as of Dec. 31 of this year and then take sabbatical time ahead of her official retirement date of March 31, 2023.
Gates announced to the convention that the new fund in Harris's honor will "provide financial support for women of color in the Diocese of Massachusetts to participate in trainings, workshops or other formation programs fostering the development of leadership skills. It will be available to those furthering their gifts as lay leaders as well as persons preparing for ordained leadership."
Donations to the Bishop Gayle E. Harris Fund for Leadership Development for Women of Color are being gratefully accepted online at www.diomass.org/give-now or by mail to: The Bishop Gayle E. Harris Leadership Fund, c/o Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 138 Tremont Street, Boston MA 02111.
A card to help spread word about giving to the new fund is available to download and share here.
Diocesan Convention paused during its afternoon business session on Oct. 29 to recognize and thank Harris. The program included a video message from Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and tributes from outgoing Standing Committee members William C. Boyce of Grace Church in New Bedford and the Rev. Deborah Phillips of Grace Church in Salem, as well as a video montage of photos capturing highlights from Harris's 20 years of episcopal ministry.
"Thank you doesn't seem to capture the gratitude that is in the room today, but it's fitting that we offer gratitude at a gathering of this very convention, who in 2002 elected you our bishop," Boyce said. "Your election was historic in its own right. It marked you as the 11th woman bishop to be elected in the episcopal succession and was the first time a woman followed a woman in office in this church," he said, referring to the late Bishop Barbara C. Harris who preceded Gayle Harris as bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also referenced that connection in his video message.
"For so many, whenever there was need, [Gayle Harris] has always responded with prophetic witness and pastoral care," Curry said. "She's been a pathfinder," he said, and as "a bishop of color, a woman, she's paved a way for others to follow in her footsteps as she follows in the footsteps of Jesus. And, I guess, what else could you expect from a bishop named Bishop Harris?"
Harris's portfolio over the years has included oversight for a broad range of diocesan programs and ministries, including global mission, deacons, clergy sabbaticals and continuing education, youth and young adult ministries, and chaplaincy for retired clergy, spouses and survivors.
"How do you measure an episcopate?" Boyce asked, and answered, in part, with a few stats that he'd gathered: 2,832 episcopal visitations and the confirmation or reception of 4,258 new Episcopalians.
"Gayle, you have been a blessing to this church, to this diocese and to many of us individually, and the blessing you have been is the result of tireless work and thousands of hours spent on highways and byways and Cape bridges and island ferries across this diocese," Boyce said.
Boyce also acknowledged that "a lot of life happens in 20 years" and offered apology for "times that we did not bring our best selves to the table. There were times where we by word and by deed failed to uphold you in your ministry. There are times we did not value you and the gifts you brought to our work. For all that we have done and all that we have failed to do we are sorry."
"Thank you for being among us as one who leads and for your gift of grit, your perseverance and, most of all, your prayers and love for us. I am convinced that we are a stronger diocese, we are better witnesses to the Gospel and we are able to follow Jesus better because of you," Boyce said.
Harris has led nearly annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land since 2009, and the Rev. Deborah Phillips, who has traveled with Harris on five of the trips, described them during her remarks as "transformative experiences."
"On my very first trip I was struck by Gayle's knowledge and love of Scripture," Phillips said. "She invites us to reimagine these stories, to internalize them, to understand them through the lens of the Christians in the Holy Land today who are living out their faith under extremely difficult times."
Phillips also cited Harris's "ability for deep and abiding friendships across many differences."
"Gayle knows that the real work of justice is walking hand in hand towards the love of God," Phillips said.
Bishop Alan Gates offered his own words of gratitude before announcing the new fund being established in Harris's honor.
"Over the past eight years as our experience of working together grew and the resultant trust could be established," Gates said, "Bishop Harris and I have found our path to a strong complementary and rewarding patnership in the episcopate of this diocese," he said. "She has served me well, she has served you well and we are grateful."
"My heart is really full," Harris said at the program's close. She acknowledged colleagues and friends who have stood behind her over the years and then began singing: "'I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.'"
"Thank you for helping me follow Jesus," she said.
--Tracy J. Sukraw