A tribute to Bishop Patrick Harris, 1934-2020

A tribute to Bishop Patrick Harris, 1934-2020

Bishop Patrick Harris, former bishop of Northern Argentina and of Southwell and Nottingham, and one-time secretary of Partnership for World Mission for the Church of England, died peacefully at the age of 86 on 26 December in Cheltenham General Hospital.

By Nick Drayson

Pat was well known to the CMS family, having served as a SAMS missionary from 1963–1980 and subsequently been heavily involved in many aspects of promoting world mission, including helping draft the well-known “Five Marks of Mission” and offering invaluable help in the setting up of the merger between CMS and SAMS.

He will be remembered as an outstanding and much-loved leader in the church, but above all as a friend and mentor to many, many other leaders around the world.

Bishop Pat talking to indigenous women in northern Argentina
Bishop Pat Harris was held in enormous affection everywhere he went.

His family writes:

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, and after attending theological college, he was a curate at St Ebbe’s, Oxford, from 1960–63.

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

He was consecrated as bishop of Northern Argentina in May 1974. He was strategic in developing multifaceted mission work in Argentina among both rural and urban churches. He developed study by extension for All Nations, and pursued advocacy for indigenous land rights and social justice throughout his ministry in Argentina. He encouraged and empowered many.

Church planting developed in the Spanish-speaking 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 ‘Käjyentes’ which translates as ‘the one who makes us happy (or makes us laugh)’. He lived closely among them, in very primitive conditions, and constantly travelled – initially on his horse Ebbo – through the arid dust of the Chaco. 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 travelled extensively to many overseas countries and 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 mission agencies, and helped establish the College of Evangelists.

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

In 1988, Patrick was invited to be the ninth bishop of Southwell. This was a diverse responsibility of many parts, with the large cities and towns, but also villages, coal mining and rural communities. 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.

Pat in bishop's robes presiding at church service
Patrick was the ninth Bishop of Southwell.

Their years of retirement in Cheltenham saw a close involvement with the University of Gloucestershire working with, among others, Chinese, Angolan, Latin American, Russian, Indian students and a Muslim family from Egypt.

The Wichí people, with whom Pat first worked in Argentina, responded to news of his death with sadness, mixed with immense gratitude.

Oliva Torres, a young lay leader in the Chaco, wrote these words: “I give thanks to God for choosing Patricio to teach the Good News to our indigenous peoples. Today his servant has gone into his presence. Sadness in many of the places where he walked, but his footsteps remain, and we are trying to follow them. Joy for those who really know the Lord. May the Lord Jesus Christ comfort his family.”

Those who knew him remember how he delighted in his children and grandchildren, had a wide range of interests from wildlife to sport – and had a terrific sense of humour. He leaves a wife Valerie, and three children, Jonny, David and Rachel. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.

Pat was held in enormous affection everywhere he went, and was an inspiration to all who served under his leadership. It is perhaps no surprise that many of those who worked in Argentina as lay missionaries ended up in the ordained ministry, thanks to his influence and guidance. His funeral will be held on 22 January 2021, and in due time there will be a service of thanksgiving for Bishop Patrick’s life and ministry in Southwell Minster.

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