After nearly 20 years of service in the Diocese of Massachusetts, Bishop Suffragan Gayle E. Harris has announced her upcoming retirement. She plans to complete her work in the diocese as of Dec. 31 of this year and then take sabbatical time ahead of her official retirement date of March 31, 2023.
Harris was elected bishop suffragan by the Diocese of Massachusetts in June 2002 and was ordained and consecrated in January 2003. She reaches the church's mandatory retirement age of 72 in 2023.
"One of my most dearest friends, whenever he is asked how he is doing, replies, 'I am richly blessed!' I have indeed been richly blessed and honored to serve God with you for these past 20 years as bishop suffragan. Amidst times of joy and sorrow, we have together found opportunities to incarnate the Gospel of love and justice and our diocesan mission strategy. And I give thanks to God for the partnership in ministry, support and encouragement I received from Bishop Alan Gates over the past eight years. It is now time for me to transition to retirement from my position," Harris said.
At her request, in lieu of a diocesanwide gathering to celebrate her ministry, leave-taking events will be scheduled with groups with which she has worked closely. There will also be a time of recognition at Diocesan Convention on Oct. 29.
"Bishop Harris has served faithfully and tirelessly, with continually widening circles of responsibility throughout her tenure. Her contribution to the leadership of our diocese will be deeply missed. I invite all who have been blessed in some way through her presence and ministry, in our diocesan community and the wider church, to join me in offering prayers of thanksgiving for her years of service," Massachusetts Bishop Diocesan Alan M. Gates said.
Gates will not be calling for the election of a successor bishop suffragan, opting instead to appoint an assistant bishop.
In The Episcopal Church, an assistant bishop is appointed from among those who are already bishops and who meet eligibility requirements outlined in church canons. An assistant bishop serves under the direction of the bishop diocesan for an agreed-upon and renewable term, providing assigned episcopal services and support within the bishop diocesan's jurisdiction. (This is different from a bishop suffragan, who is elected as such by a diocese and then serves there in an assisting role and whose tenure is not determined by the bishop diocesan.)
Following the process required by the canons of The Episcopal Church, the diocesan Standing Committee has given its consent for Gates to ask the Diocesan Convention to approve the creation of the assistant bishop position and authorize him to make the appointment. Diocesan Convention meets Oct. 28-29 in Danvers.
Q&A Regarding Episcopal Leadership in the Diocese of Massachusetts
When will Bishop Gayle Harris complete her tenure as bishop suffragan?
Bishop Harris will formally conclude her tenure as bishop suffragan on March 31, 2023, following 20 years of service in that role. In recognition of that lengthy tenure, she has been granted a terminal sabbatical for the months of January through March, thus concluding her active duties at the end of December 2022.
What are the options for a second bishop going forward?
In a diocese which is large and complex enough to require additional episcopal leadership to assist the bishop diocesan, several options exist.
A bishop suffragan may be chosen by the diocese through the full process of nomination and election of a new bishop. The bishop suffragan holds a tenured position not linked to the term of the bishop diocesan.
An assistant bishop may be appointed by the bishop diocesan, with the consent of the Standing Committee and following action of the Diocesan Convention to create such a position and authorize the bishop diocesan to make an appointment. (Episcopal Church Canon III.12.5) An assistant bishop is one who has been previously elected and consecrated as a bishop elsewhere in the church. An assistant bishop typically serves full time, with the same scope of duties as a bishop suffragan, but with a tenure linked to that of the bishop diocesan.
An assisting bishop is one who is engaged by the bishop diocesan to serve in a limited capacity, with roles narrower in scope than a bishop suffragan or assistant bishop, most typically exercising part-time liturgical or pastoral duties.
What is the plan for a second bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts?
Bishop Gates is not calling for the election of a bishop suffragan. Having received the canonically required consent of the diocesan Standing Committee, Bishop Gates will ask the Diocesan Convention to approve creation of an assistant bishop position and authorize him to make an appointment. Diocesan Convention meets Oct. 28-29 in Danvers. If the Diocesan Convention authorizes the position, Bishop Gates will consult with the Standing Committee and other key leaders in hopes of being able to make an appointment which could take effect early in the new year.
What would an assistant bishop do in our diocese?
It is anticipated that an assistant bishop would engage in the full range of episcopal leadership typical of our past bishops suffragan. It also is anticipated that the assistant bishop will have responsibilities similar to the portfolio Bishop Harris has had in recent years.