Christ Church Cranbrook Gets Gay Associate Rector

Christ Church Cranbrook, Michigan's largest Episcopal church, will be getting a new associate rector – and he happens to be gay. From San Diego, his name is Rev. Chris Harris and he stepped into the post Sept. 1. Harris said he is relocating to Michigan to give his twin daughters a familial connection.
"My husband Joe and I, we had two girls in November of 2016. About a year after having the girls we felt a pull to be closer to family," he said. "And Joe has a huge amount of family in Michigan."
Harris came to the ministry by an unusual route. He grew up in northern California and describes his parents as "classic hippies." He recalls even living with his family in a commune for a time.
"Needless to say, I didn't spend any time going to Sunday school," said Harris. "I kind of grew up with a rather negative image of Christians in general. I grew up seeing the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons and as a result of that I thought Christians were judgmental and hypocritical … almost the opposite of the God of love or the ministry that Jesus practiced."
Moving south to San Diego to attend law school at California Western University, Harris did well for himself after passing the California Bar Examination.
"I practiced law for about 10 years," Harris said. "I had just settled a big case, I bought a Maserati, a sailboat and a house with a view. I was in my early 30s and I just had this knowing within myself that there's got to be more to life than the classic American dream. I felt I was checking off a lot of those boxes and looking for meaning still."
Harris was attending a gay pride parade when church found him.
"I was minding my own business and through the parade walks St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, which got my attention, because I wasn't expecting to see a church in a gay pride parade – much less a cathedral, a 'legitimate-sounding church.' I knew there were gay churches but I always assumed they were not like traditional churches in any way."
The very next week, Harris and his partner at the time attended a service at the church.
"I didn't know the Episcopal Church from Adam," Harris said. "I didn't know anything about the denominations. But on that very first Sunday we walked in and they said a welcome that I have never forgotten and still repeat to this day: 'Whoever you are, wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith, you are welcome here and you're not just welcomed but you are affirmed and celebrated as the beloved child of God that you are.'"
"That got my attention," Harris continued. "That sounded much more like something Jesus would say. What little I knew about Jesus I knew he spent his time with the marginalized and the outcast. So I took communion on that very first day, not knowing what it was other than they invited me to do it. And I came back the next Sunday and the next Sunday and the next thing you know they invited me to join the chapter, which is like a board of directors."
Baptized and confirmed, Harris had been attending church a few years when it was suggested he go to seminary.
"My response was, 'What? Who am I to do that?'" Harris said. "And they said, 'People like you make great priests' and that kind of got me to where I am now."
Today, Harris describes himself as "kind of an evangelist at heart."
"I want to help people see that the Episcopal Church at least does not have the negative stereotypes that so many people associate with the church," Harris said. "We're really trying to do the work of accepting all people for who they are. And not just accepting them, but confirming them."
Harris went on to say that gay people have a "witness to offer the church."
"The more diversity we have in the church the more complete the picture of God that we see," Harris said. "It allows us to see God in each other."
Not where he ever imagined he'd be growing up, Harris said he is glad of where he is.
"The church changed my life," he said. "It caused me to go from being a lawyer to working for the truth. From being someone who was a lot more self-centered to being a little less self-centered. It got me on the path to a different life, a life that is more fulfilling."
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