The Right Reverend Barbara Harris, an African American who became the first woman ordained as a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States and its parent body, the worldwide Anglican Communion, has died at the age of 89.
The Right Reverend Alan Gates, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, said Harris died at a hospice outside of Boston last Friday.
The Philadelphia-born Harris entered the priesthood in 1980 at the age of 50 after years as a civil rights activist alongside a long professional career in advertising and public relations. Her activism extended into her new career in the clergy, speaking out against racism both at home and in South Africa, while becoming a staunch advocate for the LGBT community at home -- stances that brought her death threats.
Her election as bishop just eight years later drew widespread opposition among the church’s conservative members, due to her socially liberal views and the fact that she was divorced and did not hold either a bachelor’s or a seminary degree.
Harris served as a suffragan, or assistant bishop of the Massachusetts diocese from her ordination in 1989 until her retirement in 2002.