Inspiration Incarnate: Bishops Baskerville-Burrows and Harris

by | May 4, 2017

Pure joy. Truly amazing. Overwhelming love and gratitude. A momentous occasion. Blessed beyond measure. Still basking in the beauty.

These are a sample of the superlative words on social media describing what happened in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis — the consecration and seating of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, the first African American woman elected to lead a diocese in our church. Even more compelling were the photographs of beaming faces, among them nine African American women clergy from the Diocese of Washington.

Photo (left to right): the Rev. Dr. Rosemarie Duncan, the Rev. Kimberly Lucas, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Rev. Dr. Michele Hagans, the Rev. Glenna Huber, the Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, the Rev. Canon Paula Clark, the Rev. Kim Turner Baker. Not pictured, but present at the consecration, the Rev. Canon Nan Peete and the Rev. Charles Wynder.

The Rev. Canon Nan Peete preached for the Sunday morning service at Christ Episcopal Cathedral.  

Photo: The Rev. Canon Nan Peete and the Rev. Dr. Rosemarie Duncan

I’ve had the privilege of working with Bishop Baskerville-Burrows on gun violence prevention initiatives and know her to be a passionate disciple of Jesus, a strong leader who loves our church, and a tireless worker for justice.   

Speaking to journalists last week, Baskerville-Burrows said:

“We are in a fragmented culture that seems to have no end to fragmentation. It’s easier now to be isolated than it has ever been. Our scriptures tell us … that we are meant for community and for belonging, and so I hear that yearning. That’s why I am hopeful about the future of the church.”

We are blessed beyond measure to have her as bishop among us.

Among the most poignant photos from the consecration were of Bishop Baskerville-Burrows and Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman to be elected bishop in the entire Anglican communion nearly 30 years ago. As the Rev. Yolanda Rolle, EDOW chaplain at Howard writes on her Facebook page: “Bishop Baskerville-Burrows is standing on the shoulders of many women (and men) who choose daily to walk in the Will and Way of God. Women including, the Rev. Pauli Murray, the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, and the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris.”

For those of us in EDOW unable to attend the service in Indianapolis, we have chance to hear the strong, inspiring words of the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris Sunday, May 7, 4 p.m. at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park. She will preach at our annual service to honor Absalom Jones, the first African American Episcopal priest, ordained in 1804. Gifts received at the service will support the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys

Come to be inspired and renew your commitment to racial justice.  Come to support the Bishop Walker School and to welcome Bishop Harris back to the Diocese of Washington, where she served as Assisting Bishop from 2003 to 2007.

In anticipation for Sunday, here are a few quotes from Bishop Harris’ past sermons, published in her book Parting Words: A Farewell Discourse.

My friends, we search for many things in this world. We thirst after money, power, prestige, position; we may even pray for them. But like our Lord, we are at a crossroads in the church and in society. We still have a choice, and Jesus is asking us, “Do we have a thirst for the kingdom?” Are we content to settle for the temporary thirst quenchers of life, things that will never slake the thirst of our parched, dry souls? Or do we thirst for righteousness, for peace, for justice, for the liberation of all God’s people? Do we have a thirst to merge as truly faithful Christians, to be more than we are? Each of us must answer for himself or herself. Jesus is patiently waiting for our answer.

A question for us in the face of hostility and hatred is, Do we ever astonish anyone with our witness? Or is our witness bland and tepid? Do we ever by risky, sacrificial, costly relationship with Jesus astonish anybody? Would that we might!

God does not always–or even usually–call us because we are finished products or perfect instruments for his service. God calls us, then remolds, equips, and empowers us for his service. Not only do we have this treasure in earthen vessels (as St. Paul reminds us), but when the vessel becomes cracked or marred, God like a potter, does not cast it away. God reshapes us into a new vessel.

And Bishop Harris’ signature blessing:

May you never forget that the power behind you is greater than the task ahead of you.

I hope to see you Sunday.