Bishop Barbara Harris
Text: Philippians 4:4-7
Barbara Harris, first woman bishop in the Episcopal church, preached from Pullen’s pulpit on this 125th Anniversary Sunday. Because Bishop Harris does not share her sermons for publication, we regret that we can not reprint her sermon, entitled “What a Time” on the website. Following are the Statement of Worship, the unison Prayers of the People, written by Suzanne Newton, the benediction offered by Bishop Harris and the sending forth from Nancy E. Petty.
Statement of Worship, Nancy E. Petty
On December 28, 1884 a small rag-tag group of Baptists, under the leadership of John T. Pullen, officially organized themselves as the Fayetteville Street Baptist Church. Committing themselves to the worship of God and ministering to the marginalized and oppressed of our society, they began a tradition of being a prophetic voice and preaching and living a social gospel, not only in the Raleigh community but in the larger Baptist community and world.
Now, 125 years later, we gather—still as a small rag-tag group of Baptists, Baptist “misfits” if you will—as the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, to continue the tradition that our spiritual mothers and fathers passed on to us: that of worshipping God, ministering to the marginalized and oppressed of our society, and being a prophetic voice in our world. Indeed, what a privilege it is to be in this place of worship today to celebrate the 125th anniversary of our church.
Today, we celebrate who we have been, who we are, and who we are becoming. But mostly, we celebrate and worship the God who has held us together, who has given us a vision for doing justice and loving kindness, and who is still calling us to speak a hopeful and prophetic word in the world.
And what better way to celebrate than to have in our pulpit one of the most prophetic voices in the Christian church, Bishop Barbara Harris. The first woman bishop in the Episcopal church, Barbara’s life and ministry has been about fighting injustice and inequality; or as her bio states, “being an activist critic of the status quo.” Her commitment to social justice and to a social gospel has been and is unwavering. In addition to being a burr under the saddle of Episcopalians, she has been a mentor to women in ministry of all denominations and a bright light to all Christians who seek to work for justice in our world.
I first met Barbara at The College of Preachers in Washington, DC about eight years ago. I had signed up for a week-long preaching class that she was teaching on prophetic preaching. That week, I not only learned something about prophetic preaching, I found a mentor and friend. I left DC that week with one goal in mind—for Pullen church to meet Barbara Harris and for Barbara Harris to meet the people of Pullen church, for I knew that we where each other’s people. Barbara, I am grateful and honored that now, eight years later, on the 125th anniversary of Pullen Church—a church made up of a group of people who share your passion for justice and equality in the world—to welcome you and introduce you to this amazing group of Baptists. Welcome. We look forward to hearing your message to us.
The Prayers of the People
On this day, we celebrate our church and all those who have gone before us and bequeathed to us a great spiritual heritage.
Leader: Rejoice in the Lord always. Do not be anxious. God is near. Let us pray together.
People: O Blessed God,
on this anniversary day
we rejoice and give thanks
for your amazing grace
that has brought us this far.
Thank you for your spirit of love and compassion
that strengthens the people of this church to reach out,
to comfort, to offer aid, to advocate for justice,
and to pray for one another.
Thank you for never leaving us alone.
Thank you for the companionship of friends and mentors along the way.
When we fail, you help us up.
When we lose the way, you show us how to find it again.
When we feel like giving up, you put a song of joy in our hearts and on our lips.
Help us to be bearers of hope,
makers of peace,
and vessels of joy,
always working to make your kingdom visible, here in our time, and in the time to come.
In the name of the one
who taught us how to love and serve you.
Offered by Bishop Barbara Harris
May God bless you with discomfort…
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger…
At the injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears…
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness…
To believe you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what other claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
Sending forth from Nancy E. Petty
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine…”
You are, we are, Pullen Church is, a light that dawns on a weary world. Go forth now and let your light shine, for the promised day of justice comes.