Revolution on the Frontiers of Love: Transforming the World by Listening

After a triennium on TREC, The Reimagining the Episcopal Church Task Force, Julia Ayala Harris is ready to double down, running now for Executive Council. But then, Julia is a doubling-down kind of person. Once she’s caught fire about something, there’s no stopping her.

It’s a good thing, too, because Julia was up against it from her start in life. Raised as the “little brown girl” by her resource-challenged Anglo grandparents, odd-person-out among a flock of children when her mom succumbed to mental illness and her Mexican-American dad didn’t want to raise a girl, Julia’s childhood might have sunk a less hardy person. It made Julia a feminist, if a feminist in 6-inch heels.

It also made her a seeker, never quite at home until the day at Wheaton College when she forsook her Roman Catholic upbringing and evangelical exploring, and tried an Episcopal church. Kneeling at the rail to receive communion, she realized the wafer was being proffered by the hand of a woman. She looked up and sure enough: a woman in a clergy collar. Suddenly she knew she’d been an Episcopalian all her life. Women at all levels of leadership! The reverent mystery of the liturgy! Room to question and struggle and formulate your own beliefs. Room for everyone of all colors, classes, backgrounds.
That was just the beginning. With a shared passion to serve, Julia and her husband, now confirmed Episcopalians, went to work with the Mennonite Central Committee in South Sudan before its nationhood. With a bachelors’s in non-profit development, Julia’s role was to help the Sudanese change mindset from war to reconstruction.  She brought together a coalition of stakeholders to make a strategic plan for social entrepreneurship, from large European donors to Sudanese community leaders who’d never seen a plane before. People of totally different spheres made enduring connections, so that an illiterate tribal woman could transform the convictions of a minister from The Hague.
Such “phoenixing” work is Julia’s specialty, her calling in God, the fruit of her own sense of marginalization as a woman of color. Honest, real, collaborative, she takes on desperate case after desperate case, visioning, networking, listening. She quotes Proverbs 31:8: “Speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, defend the rights of the poor and the destitute.” “Now,” she says, “I know I have to help people find their own voice and claim their own power. If they're not ready, I speak up. But infinitely more powerful when they are ready to speak for themselves.”

“Our church institution may be dying,” she says. “But we have these ministries on love’s frontiers: vibrant leaders, doing amazing things, loving their neighbor, engaged in their communities in ways that aren't the norm, at the margins of church institutions. You can SEE GOD WORKING! We need to go further; it needs to get riskier. We need to see pruning and death not as ends but as necessary preludes to the resurrection.”

- The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini