President-elect: ‘Look at the Violets in our Church’

“Now is when we as the Episcopal Church commit ourselves to crafting the new wineskins that we will pour our new wine into,” Julia Ayala Harris preached. | Screen capture

By Neva Rae Fox

House of Deputies President-elect Julia Ayala Harris wasted no time in challenging General Convention on the morning of its final legislative day: “Our time is now to shape the good news with the multicultural, multiethnic, intersectional generation that is burnt out and dismayed.”

“What Jesus is challenging us to do is look at our faith norms, systems, and structures differently,” Ayala Harris said in her recorded sermon during Morning Prayer on Monday. “Because we, the Episcopal Church, have so much to give the world!”

She shared a childhood memory of her grandmother’s Chicago patio, created by different bricks of various sizes and shapes, forming a square with small, colorful flowers growing in the cracks among the weeds. “And at that age, maybe 3 or 4, I already had this concept that things that grow in the cracks are considered weeds, and that weeds are bad. And yet these purple violets were allowed to grow in the cracks in such a way that brought the bricks in the patio truly to life.”

This made her think. “I had to wrestle with this concept at a very young age, of being told by society, culture, and adults, who presumably knew best, that things that grow in the cracks are weeds and that they should be pulled out and destroyed. Yet even at that tender age, I understood that the violets were precious. Despite how they grew in the cracks, they were not weeds that need to be destroyed, but flowers that need to be cared for and loved.”

Ayala Harris compared this memory to today. “We can look at our church as the patio with the different color and shaped bricks that all come together to make our church. Yet we have guidelines and rules in such a way that sometimes we forget that when we find purple, velvety violets growing in the cracks, that those are gifts to us. That this is life happening. Stemming forth out of something otherwise cold and overly structured. Those violets are telling us that there is more life to be had.”

Another challenge: “I call upon us to look at the violets in our church.” She noted ministries that can “be better resourced. Because if we could do that, then I think we would find that our congregations and our structures would be more aligned with how Jesus has intended our garden to grow.”

Ayala Harris addressed groundbreaking events at General Convention. “The Episcopal Church elected someone who used to be a little Brown girl who liked to think deep thoughts about flowers and faith in her grandmother’s patio to become the president of the House of Deputies,” she said. “And this week the Episcopal Church elected a vice president who is an Indigenous woman during a time when we are reckoning with our Indigenous boarding school past. This week the Episcopal Church has made history. It is being led by two presiding officers who are both people of color.”

She predicted change is coming: “Doing ministry among the people. Charting a different course. Because we must. We are commanded. We are called. And our time is now. It is critical that we reach younger generations.

“And that time is now. And now is when we as the Episcopal Church commit ourselves to crafting the new wineskins that we will pour our new wine into.”

COVID and health regulations prompted the House of Deputies and House of Bishops to worship separately, using the same readings and sharing the sermon video feed.

Included in the House of Bishops’ Prayers of the People were Bishop Keith Whitmore who is ill, and bishops retiring this year: Michie Klusmeyer, West Virginia; Susan Goff, Virginia; Dabney Smith, Southwestern Florida; Ian Douglas, Connecticut; Morris Thompson, Louisiana; Anne Hodges-Copple, North Carolina; Francisco Duque, Colombia; and Carl Wright, Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.



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