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First Woman Bishop Has Business Background, Draws Praise From Around Nation With AM-Bishop

September 25, 1988

First Woman Bishop Has Business Background, Draws Praise From Around Nation With AM-Bishop Election

BOSTON (AP) _ The first female bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church forged a career in business before rising to a position that no woman in the 2,000-year history of the Christian church has attained.

The Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris can add her Saturday election by the Episcopal diocese of eastern Massachusetts to a long list of accomplishments in a career in business and religion.

Harris, 58, who is black, began a career in public relations in 1958. Since then, she spent a dozen years in increasingly senior public relations positions at the Sun Oil Co. before turning her involvement in the church from volunteer work to a full-time calling.

Harris, who is divorced, became a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1980, four years after the Episcopal church first accepted women into the priesthood. From 1984 to present, Harris has been an associate at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Her resume includes honorary degrees at Hobard and William Smith colleges.

Barbara Glasspool, a delegate at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, where Harris was named bishop Saturday, said Harris deserves her post apart from her gender.

″Barbara has a wonderful capacity to bring together different groups. She’s good at negotiating; at bringing opposite sides together,″ said Glasspool, who was a driving force behind Harris’ election.

Harris, who was in Philadelphia on Saturday, declined to comment after her victory, saying she was busy preparing her Sunday sermon and attending church- related functions.

But in printed statements distributed to delegates, she described her philosophy of religious leadership.

″My developing prayer and spiritual life has helped me learn to deal with anger - my own and that of others - in a calm and non-stressful way,″ Harris said. ″My guiding principle is to try to ‘speak the truth in love’ and to hear what others are saying beneath the spoken word.″

While the election of a woman was for some a controversial event, congratulations for Harris flowed in from around the country.

In Cincinnati, the Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, presiding bishop in the United States, applauded the election but called for calm and prayer.

″This election is a historic event,″ he said, adding that it was an ″occasion of great joy and celebration. For many it is a troubling time. For all of us, I think, it is a time when we will be flooded with deep emotions. It is a time that will test our commitment to the unity of the church, but more especially our sensitivity to the feelings snd convictions of others.″

Browning noted at a news conference that women have proven themselves in the 11 years since the church began ordaining them. ″Many males have been elected without a good deal of experience,″ Browning noted.

″I think that women have brought a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment to the church and I think that this (election) will bring more of that,″ said Browning.

Browning said only seven or eight of the 123 dioceses in the United States have not ordained women.

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