By Lekpele M. Nyamalon
Monrovia– The Lutheran Church in Liberia has flipped a major page over, through the passing of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Sumoward E. Harris, Bishop Emeritus of the Lutheran Church in Liberia.
Bishop Emeritus Harris represents a golden generation of the ecclesiastical body of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, the Liberia Council of Churches and the Interfaith Mediation Committee in Liberia.
I was a 7th grader in Danané La Cote d’Ivoire when Pastor Harris was called to take the helm of the Lutheran Church in Liberia in 1995, taking over from renowned clergyman and statesman the Rt. Rev. Ronald J. Diggs. Bishop Harris took over at a time the Church and Nation Liberia were at major crossroads towards the path to stability, recovery and the search for healing.
As a key member of the Liberia Council of Churches and the Interfaith Mediation Committee, Bishop Harris was a key voice in the Nation’s search for justice, reconciliation and healing. He became an advocate for constructive dialogue with National government — a move that opened door for fruitful discussion rather than antagonistic diatribes. In one of his statements, he intoned that “If we only criticize them in the media, we will close the door to meaningful dialogue with those in government.”
Under this watch as Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, the Church instituted two major projects: The Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Project and the HIV/AIDS Program. These two visionary projects were meant to address urgent national recovery efforts that were spillovers from the civil war and global health emergencies. The need for trauma healing after a long period of civil unrest, when people are still struggling with issues of trauma from war experiences cannot be overemphasized.
Quiet, unassuming, calm and strategic, Bishop Emeritus Harris was awarded an honorary doctorate (Honorius Causa) in 1996. I remember with fondness while a Sunday School Student at the Lutheran Refugee Congregation in Danané, when the announcement was made during regular Church Service.
Bishop Harris, through word and sacrament was a torch bearer of the creed of Lutheranism, unperturbed to articulate the core values of the origins of Lutheranism with demeanor and tact through sermons, teachings and sometimes taking unpopular positions on topics of inherent controversies, i.e. the position of the Lutheran Church in Liberia on same-sex marriage, etc.
The period between 1995- 2012 represent the years of the tunnel in the History of the Liberian Nation and the Lutheran Church in Liberia that called for sound, articulate and insightful minds to lead the Church and guide State Actors towards peace, dialogue and reconciliation.
In the third stanza of the Hymn “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus”,
Stand up! stand up for Jesus!
Stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you;
Ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor,
And, watching unto prayer,
Where duty calls, or danger,
Be never wanting there.
He stood up for Jesus, until the time when he lies in state at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on 14st Street Sinkor and off to his homestead in Totota, Bong County for rest on Saturday February 27, 2021.
By his life, ministry and legacy, Bishop Sumoward E. Harris proved that where duty called or danger, he was not wanting there. Even with his unassuming looks, hushed smiles and quiet demeanor, his presence was unmissed.
May the God of the Fathers rest his soul!