Avis Harris (1915-1996)

Charles Sydnor’s staff, 1995. Avis is in the middle left.

By February, 1968 Avis Harris had taken her seat as one of the “vestrymen” and the first woman to sit on the Vestry. While women served, many customs from the past remained.    It was not until 1978 that “vestrypersons” replaced the term “vestrymen” in the minutes.  Dr. Carroll Quenzel had first proposed a female vestry person in 1966 at a Congregational meeting. Then “sparks flew” on both sides and some families split on the vote which found 25 in favor of it, 41 against, 29 abstaining.”  

Avis Harris was a member of St. George’s for 40 years but is known best as Coordinator  of Christian education.  

Charles Sydnor, the rector during much of her service,  provided these thoughts – “Avis became an almost full time volunteer for all aspects of Christian Education.  She helped review and select curriculum materials and recruited teachers and conducted teacher training. She also initiated various creative ways for learning. For example, she planned having the stations of the cross staged by kids in costumes with props in still scenes in market square so that after the Palm Sunday service, the whole congregation processed out to go silently from station to station and then assemble in the center for the singing of “Where you there when they crucified my Lord”.  She had the idea for the Palm Sunday ecumenical procession which began in Hurkamp Park.  One amusing anecdote: to greet those who did not go to the park, she had kids standing on the front steps of St. G’s waving palm branches and repeating “Hosanna” as people entered. One kid was overheard to say, “I wish this hosanna guy would hurry up and get here; my arms are tired!”  She was a gifted , creative teacher herself, and if at the last minute a teacher could not come, Avis could walk in the class and quickly invent activities for learning that the kids enjoyed.

“Avis saw a need for a day school  which might offer a theologically sound alternative to some of the more fundamentalist private schools at that time,  but I don’t think the market had been thoroughly researched, and without adequate enrollment, the idea was abandoned.

“Avis was my daughter’s god-mother and after my wife’s mother’s death death when our daughter was three years old, “Avee,” as Christina called her, became a substitute grandmother and very much a part of our family. At times some persons, perhaps rightly so, thought Avis had too much influence over the priorities I set for the parish, so that I was not open to other ideas. While I suspect there was truth in that concern, I think it was also part of our struggle to transition from a pastoral-sized  congregation to a program-sized congregation which means the Rector can no longer attend all committee meetings and that lay-ministry must be trusted and empowered.  “

Vicki Harrison added her memories of Avis’ Sunday School – “My one personal remembrance of Avis was her being in charge of Sunday school.  At that time, all classes were held in Sydnor Hall.  There were green curtains separating the different classes. . .really noisy when all classes met.  I do remember one class in the kitchen.  That was great since it was a bit more quiet and we had a long table to sit around.  When classes were over, all the children came together in a circle for prayers.  Avis would have us kneel on the floor for the prayers.  We would complain since the floor was wooden and quite hard.  Avis would tell us it would not hurt long and we could