Lawyer Turned Preacher Takes Helm of Historic Downtown Kansas City United Methodist Church
By Dan Cambridge
Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church formally installed its first African-American female pastor on Sunday, Nov. 9. Tina L. Harris, an attorney and diversity expert with two international law firms before being called to the ministry, becomes the 37th pastor of the downtown Kansas City church, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015.
Missouri Methodist Conference Bishop Robert Schnase took part in the installation service, leading those assembled in laying hands on the new pastor. Other guests included Kansas City Councilman Scott Wagner, numerous United Methodist clergy, family and friends of Rev. Harris and the members of Grand Avenue Temple.
“I am absolutely thrilled to lead this congregation that has been making such an important impact by meeting needs and serving God in downtown Kansas City,” said Harris. “This ministry gives a voice to the voiceless, welcomes the outsider, feeds the hungry and demonstrates Jesus’ love to all. People are looking for something different, something real, something that will change their lives. They will find it here.”
Before answering her call to the ministry in 2008, Harris was director of strategic diversity initiatives and of counsel at Shook, Hardy & Bacon law firm and chief diversity officer at Bryan Cave law firm, both in Kanas City. After graduating from St. Paul School of Theology with a Master of Divinity degree in 2012, she served as pastor of children and youth at St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City. Addressing the needs and interests of people from all walks of life has been a key aspect of Harris' mission and purpose, even prior to being called to the ministry.
“Tina Harris is exactly the right person at the right time for Grand Avenue Temple UMC,” said Rev. Kendall Waller, District Superintendent of the United Methodist Heartland District, of which Grand Avenue Temple UMC is a part. Waller was instrumental in recommending Harris to Bishop Schnase for appointment to the Grand Avenue pastorate. “With her background, faith and dynamism, she is going to be the leader we need for this unique congregation in downtown Kansas City.”
Harris is a native of Galesburg, Ill. and graduated with honors from DePaul University in Chicago and the Northern Illinois University College of Law. She is a dynamic public speaker and presenter and regarded as an innovative and forward-thinking leader in diversity initiatives.
Harris succeeds Rev. Dr. Ron Brooks, who served the congregation for ten years and transitioned the church’s Lazarus Ministries to a non-profit corporation, strengthening Grand Avenue Temple’s 30-year commitment to providing bodily and spiritual support to the homeless population.
The Grand Avenue Temple Methodist congregation was founded in 1865. The church building at 205 E 9th St was built in 1912. Both the church and its E.W. Skinner Opus 190 organ are on the National Register of Historic Places.