Bishop Pat Harris. 1934-2020

Bishop Pat Harris, former Bishop of Northern Argentina and of Southwell and Nottingham, and onetime Secretary of Partnership for World Mission for the Church of England died peacefully at the age of 86 on 26 December at 4 am in Cheltenham General hospital where he had been for sixteen days.

His family write:

“Patrick was a man of deep faith, with strong convictions as a Christian since his Army days as a young officer. From there he went to Oxford to study law (at Keble College) where he was President of the Christian Union. After attending theological college, (Clifton Theological College, Bristol), he was a curate at St Ebbe’s in Oxford from 1960-63.

From 1963, he spent 17 years in Northern Argentina amongst the Wichi people. One key role he had was to prepare the first Wichi for ordination, of which there have now been many. This led to the ordination of the first Wichi bishops. ”

In 1968, Bishop Patrick married Valerie Pilbrow. They had three children, Jonny, David and Rachel.

His family write: “In 1969 he was appointed Archdeacon of Salta in northwest Argentina. He was consecrated as the first Bishop of Northern Argentina in May 1974. He was strategic in developing multifaceted mission work in Argentina amongst the Wichi and Spanish speaking churches. He developed Study by Extension for All Nations, and pursued advocacy for indigenous land rights and social justice throughout his ministry in Argentina (remember he had an Oxford law degree). He encouraged and empowered many.

“Church planting developed amongst the Spanish speaking nationals in the towns and cities. A large social development came into being, financed by worldwide relief agencies. He believed passionately in mission outreach, making sure that training in Scripture and a life of prayer was key. He loved the people of the diocese. The Wichi named him ”Kajyentes“ which translates as ”Barnabas,son of encouragement“……in their words; ”the one who makes us happy. “ He lived closely amongst them, in very primitive conditions and constantly travelled – initially on his horse ”Ebbo“ – through the arid dust of the Chaco, or ”green hell.” All this very much formed and shaped him into the person of deep humanity that he became.

“On our return to the UK in 1980, for educational reasons, we spent five very happy years in the large parish of Kirkheaton, Huddersfield, with a wide social mix of people. This gave him grounding in the Church of England. Next, for two and a half years, he headed up Partnership for World Mission.

“He led in promoting the establishment the College of Evangelists and was a strong advocate of lay ministry. He was also a lead for The Board of Mission, for writing and launching of the Five Marks of mission which is still used today.

“He travelled extensively to many overseas countries. He was responsible with Bishop Bill Flagg for setting up the new Province of the Southern Cone which was inaugurated in 1981. He brought together various societies ‘under one roof’, including USPG, in the CMS building in Partnership House which became the centre for global Anglicans. The Queen opened the new building.

“He was a member of the cross-party South Atlantic Council which was established to restore relationships with Argentina after the 1982 Falklands war.

“Then in 1988, Patrick was invited to be the 9th Bishop of Southwell, covering the whole of Nottinghamshire and a bit of South Yorkshire! This was a diverse responsibility of many parts, with the large city of Nottingham, lovely towns like Newark, Mansfield, Worksop, but also villages, coal mining and rural communities. He played a large part with links to Captains of Industry, the University, the hospitals. Again evangelism was a heartbeat. Care and support for clergy were central for him, ordination of many women and the development and use of the laity. Three pilgrimages with young people to Taize were special to us. Southwell Diocese is still very dear to us and close to our hearts.

“He was a bishop for 47 years and in addition to Northern Argentina and Southwell served as an Assistant Bishop in Wakefield, Oxford, Lincoln, Gloucester and Europe. He was involved in the structure of 3 Lambeth Conferences (1978, 1988 and 1998). He travelled extensively in Canada and USA in a teaching ministry. He was a lead speaker in the Ridgecrest Conference in North Carolina. [ The New Wineskins Conference held every three years at Ridgecrest conference centre Ed.].

“We have spent 15 very happy and fulfilling years in Cheltenham and the diocese of Gloucester, which included a visit to India, close involvement with the University of Gloucestershire working with, amongst others, Chinese, Angolan, Latin American, Russian, Indian students and our dear Muslim family from Egypt. He was invited to become a Lay Fellow last year. Our membership of St Philips and St James, Leckhampton has been a joy and of deep blessing.”

Those who knew him remember how he delighted in his children and grandchildren, had a wide range of interests from gardening to sport – and had a terrific sense of humour.

The current Bishop of Northern Argentina, Nick Drayson, writes: “Pat was held in enormous affection everywhere he went, but nowhere more so than amongst the Wichí people, with whom he kept in close contact for more than 50 years. He was an inspiration to all who served under his leadership, and it is perhaps no surprise that the vast majority of those who worked in Argentina as lay missionaries ended up in the ordained ministry, thanks to his influence and guidance. I consider it a huge honour to follow in his footsteps leading the diocese he helped form, and to say he was my friend and mentor.”

Bishop Henry Scriven, the General Secretary of EFAC and former General Secretary of SAMS, writes: “Pat was very supportive of the CMS SAMS merger which helped me a lot. In 2009 (29 years after leaving Argentina) he preached at Bishop Nicholas Drayson’s consecration in Ingeniero Juarez in both Spanish and Wichi fluently. He was then mobbed by all the older Wichi leaders who were desperate to speak to him!”

On hearing the news of Bishop Patrick’s death, the current Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams said:

“Bishop Patrick is held in deep affection by many across this diocese and in the wider Church. His ministry was marked by a joyful commitment to Christ and gospel growth – in lives and in churches – as well as his pastoral heart and vision for the unique mission of every local church. He never ceased praying daily for this diocese too.

Above all, the lasting impression of Patrick’s ministry in this diocese and in his retirement was his prayerful and gracious resolve to make Christ known and as an encourager of those new to faith. He remained an evangelist at heart and had no greater joy than seeing people come to Christ. His transparent kindness and spiritual insight, rooted in Scripture and prayer, was an inspiration to many, not only in his teaching and episcopal leadership, but also in his daily life. In all this, Valerie was a tremendous support and co-partner in the gospel – together throughout their ministry they have also had a special care for the marginalized and people with disabilities.”

In due time there will be a service of Thanksgiving for Bishop Patrick’s life and ministry in Southwell Minister.