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In Memory of . . . W. Edward Harris (1935-2012)

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ministries and Faith Development staff offers our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Reverend W. Edward Harris who died on August 10, 2012. He was 77 years old.

Rev. Harris was born in Tampa, FL on June 17, 1935 to Ira Walter Harris and Ruth Hope Duss. Soon after, his father remarried and he was raised by Mary Elizabeth (Smith) Harris, whom he referred to as his mother. He attained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Birmingham-Southern College in 1957. In 1968, he went on to earn a Master of Divinity from Tufts University’s Crane Theological School. He received a Merrill Fellowship from Harvard Divinity School in 1980.

Rev. Harris was called by the Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA in 1967 (where he was also ordained on November 3, 1968) and served as the minister there until 1970. He was then called to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana Champaign in Urbana, IL from 1970-1983. He experienced another long run as minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, IN from 1984-1992. There, he was bestowed with the title of Minister Emeritus in 1992. He worked as an interim minister at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, MD from 1992-1993; the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL from 1993-1995; the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY in 1997; and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis, IN from 2003-2004. He also consulted on health care issues at the UUA from 1997-1998, and helped found the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Hendricks County in Danville, IN.

Rev. Harris was a passionate civil rights and political activist. He was a founder and president of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union and also served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union. He pioneered voter registration campaigns in Birmingham, AL following 1964’s Civil Rights Act. He was a board member of the Birmingham Council on Human Relations and served on Birmingham’s first Anti-Poverty Committee. Rev. Harris also worked on both the Kennedy-Johnson and the Johnson-Humphrey campaigns of the 1960s. He was chairman of the Illinois Committee for Jimmy Carter, and also served on the Democratic National Committee on the Platform and Credentials Sub-committee.

A dedicated and engaging writer and poet, Rev. Harris published seven books: Life Will Never Be the Same (1989); A Religion of the Heart (1990); A Garage Sale of the Mind (1991); A Midwife’s Tale and Other Christmas Stories (1994); How You Can Have a Good Day Everyday (even if you made other plans) (1995); The Way It Happened: Five Christmas Stories (1996); Miracle in Birmingham: a Civil Rights Memoir, 1954-1965 (2004); and The Wine of Astonishment (2010). Four short articles by Rev. Harris can also be found in the Walt Whitman Encyclopedia (1998).

Known to many as an "impressive, yet humble, man,” Rev. Harris has been described as having "enjoyed the fine art of good conversation” with "wonderful humor and storytelling.” He was noted to be "an ideal model for ministers who wonder how to maneuver through emeritus status.” To some he was a "wise mentor and teacher,” and to many, he will be remembered as "a man generous with joy.” His wife of 56 years, Sandra, remembers him simply as "a magnificent human being.”

Rev. Harris is survived by his wife, Sandra (Gutridge) Harris; two sons, Mark Emory Harris and Phillip Stone Harris; three grandchildren, Tabitha Grace Camp, Ian Dougherty-Harris, and Maya Dougherty-Harris; a brother, James Tyra Harris; a sister, Ruth Reader; a son-in-law, Steven Camp; and former daughter-in-law, Deborah Dougherty. He was predeceased by a daughter, Edith Harris Camp.

There will be a memorial service on September 8, 2012 at 2 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Church, 5805 East 56th St., Indianapolis, IN 46226.

Notes of condolence may be sent to Sandra Harris at 5705 Crestview Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46220.

This church is not a place of right convictions, a fortress of truth or even a bastion of philosophy.

The church is a community of those who have suffered loss, lived through it, and learned true compassion.

We have a sense of awe and mystery about this world and this enterprise of living.

Our church is where we hear music and sing it ourselves, where we serve one another and the world, and where the strands of our beliefs, our lives and hopes are in a cable strong enough to bear us across the valleys of pain, despair, grief, doubt and disillusionment.

Each has experienced these, or will. We learn from each, and for these reasons we come to this special place, infusing it with hope.

- W. Edward Harris, adapted

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