The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, has released this statement about the death of Bishop Barbara Harris:

It is almost impossible to imagine the Episcopal Church without Bishop Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. Elected in 1988, Barbara was fierce, faithful, and, as a journalist once called her, “memorably direct” in her insistence that the Episcopal Church pursue justice for all of God’s people.

Barbara was always completely and totally Barbara. She never pretended to be anyone other than who she was, and she told the truth no matter what the cost. Often that cost was paid with the comfort and dignity of institutional leaders who were, in her view, insufficiently interested in standing with the marginalized and the vulnerable. They learned quickly that her passion for justice was matched only by her wicked and fearless sense of humor.

On the Sunday after she was elected bishop, Barbara preached at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, where fourteen years earlier, she had served as crucifer at the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven. In her sermon, she said that “a fresh wind is indeed blowing. For some they are refreshing breezes. For others they are as fearsome as a hurricane.”

I give thanks to God for Barbara’s life and ministry and for the fresh wind of change that she blew through our church. May we all strive to be worthy of the legacy she has bequeathed to us.

Learn more about Bishop Barbara Harris on the Diocese of Massachusetts’s website.

photo: President Jennings and Bishop Barbara Harris at General Convention 2012, shortly after President Jennings was elected to her first term as president of the House of Deputies.