The Rev. Linda Harris was born May 10, 1944. She did not attend church in her early years. Her mother and sisters were Catholic but she and her father did not go anywhere. Linda remembers her father’s mother and sister singing gospel hymns to her when she was very young, such as “Rock of Ages” and “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
At at age 16 she was invited by friends to go with them to Sunday school and church at a Presbyterian church. She liked it enough that within six months she joined and was welcomed into the church as a member; the pastor even “sprinkled" her. One month later, there was a church party for teens who were encouraged to invite friends. Linda invited a friend that was on the school council with her and who was a cheerleader. While Linda didn’t know what “gay” meant, she was very “butch” looking and her friend Frank had limp wrists. The next Sunday she was called into the pastor’s office and was told the church did not want her kind of people or friends in their church.
At age 19, Linda was invited by a friend Barbara to the church where she was the pianist (her father was an Assemblies of God pastor) Linda developed a crush on this woman and wrote (but didn't mail) love letters which Linda's mother found. She called the pastor where Barbara was the pianist and told him that Barbara was a lesbian and corrupting Linda. Linda and Barbara were called into a conference with the pastor. The pastor told Linda that she could stay in church but I would have to sit between two of the men who were elders and could not talk to the women or children. Unwilling to accept these conditions, Linda was told to leave and not come back.
In 1973, her daughter Monica was born. Linda adopted her, somewhat of a miracle since in 1973 single persons were generally not allowed to adopt. Eighteen months later, Monica developed a kidney disease that was diagnosed as terminal. In 1975, Linda moved from Kansas City to Fort Worth so her family could help with child care. After having been an airlines reservation agent in Kansas City, she became the first woman ramp agent at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport loading bags and freight. She recalls being called "Slugger" because she fought with the men there so much. In 1979, while riding a dirt bike at the Flying W Motorcycle Club’s retreat, she wrecked and broke an arm and leg. She could no longer work the airport ramp, so sold her home and moved to Denver back to another reservation office.
Shortly after arriving in Denver, Monica's kidney disease returned and Linda was told again that Monica would not live much longer. So Linda decided to make a deal with God. Sitting on the steps of a church one block from her home, because she believed that God only existed in churches, she told God if He would let Monica live, she would go to church.
After a rather negative experience attending a Bible study at this church, Linda had a vision. She recalls that she was working on a paper with Bible questions from a borrowed Bible. "The Presence of the Lord came into my bedroom, Monica came in, I heard a voice that filled the room. It was neither male nor female. The first words were 'I am the Lord your God. You will have no other gods. There is no way to me except through my Son, Jesus. I call you. Man has not called you. You are my own.' During this time, my bible was turning (on its own) from Old Testament to New Testament back and forth, as this Voice quoted the scriptures at each place the Bible turned. I thought I would faint, my body was soaking wet with sweat, I was shaking all over. I fell on my face on the floor until the voice stopped. I believed Him and I accepted Jesus as my Savior right then. When I tried to talk to Monica,I could only speak in tongues. I was baptized with the Fire of the Holy Spirit."
Two days later, she called the union and resigned her union position because she had met Jesus. Then she went into her boss’s office and told him that she had resigned from the union and that she loved him. She told him about meeting Jesus and that she wanted him to meet Jesus, too. Linda recalls that everything in her life changed then, except that she knew she was still gay and that that was not an issue for God.
In 1982, she quit her job at the airline after 20 years and bought a fishing lodge at Lake Whitney. She spent time there studying the Bible and praying and meditating. Friends came to visit and have Christian retreats with her.
In January 1985, her brother-in-law was murdered, so Linda moved to Fort Worth to live with her sister Kay. She studied days, nights and weekends to get a real estate license in only six weeks and worked for her sister's real estate firm. While in Fort Worth she encountered her first predominately gay church--Agape MCC. Linda became immersed in the life of this congregation and found opportunities for ministry opening up for her.
Later that year, Linda's mother died. As she left the hospital room after her mother's death, she encountered someone from Agape MCC in a room two doors down. She found this man in great distress because he thought God did not want him. His partner had called three churches in the Metroplex asking for a clergy to come to the hospital and pray. No pastor came. Linda held him and told him of God's love for him. She asked him to share the love of Jesus by telling the next person that came into his room that “Jesus loves me and Jesus loves them. Jesus died for me and for you.” Soon a nurse came in. The young man cried as he told her that Jesus loves him and Jesus loves her. Within the hour, the young man died in Linda's arms. Although she was not a minister, Linda made a commitment there and asked God to send her to those with AIDS that nobody else would go to.
For the next ten years she worked through the ministries of Grace Fellowship In Christ Jesus in Dalls. She assisted the pastor there in doing many memorial services. She became associate pastor and later co-pastor. She served on the board of directors for Grace Ministries. She also engaged in ministries in other parts of the world--in 1995, she went to South Africa and ministered for six weeks as part of Joan Wakeford Ministries. She was a guest speaker at women's conference in Vancouver, Canada.
Upon returning from a trip to Israel in November 1999, she was told that Grace Ministries had revoked my credentials and that she could no longer be a pastor there. Immediately therafter, several friends asked Linda to be their pastor. Reluctantly, they formed a new church and named it Sanctuary of Love. Harris was the long-time pastor for Sanctuary of Love Church where, church members said, she created “a ministry for those no one else accepted, where love was unconditional. Because of that, people who wouldn’t be accepted anywhere else could go to Linda and feel love, and then they knew how to give love to other people.” Harris also played a role in founding or helping develop other LGBT-affirming congregations in the area. final ministry was with Rainbow Ministries International, which she founded after leaving Sanctuary of Love.
Friends reported that Dallas’ annual gay Pride parade was always one of Harris’ greatest pleasures, and that every year she built a float for the parade she won a trophy. They described her as an “extremely loving and caring and totally genuine person” who was known and loved by people from all over the world.
Her sister, Kay Day, stated to a reporter that whenever anyone asked Harris how she was feeling, she always responded, “I am blessed and highly favored.” Day also said that two days before she died, a man came to visit Harris and told her that he had been homeless, but because the pastor allowed him to sleep in her church, he was able to turn his life around. As the man left, Day said, Harris told him, “If you need me, just call me.” Day said her sister “helped so many people who had AIDS and were disowned by their parents. She stayed with them, and she conducted their funerals.”
Harris died on Wednesday, January 5, 2011, at Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth following a lengthy illness. She is survived by her partner, Janice LaCount; her daughter and son-in-law, Monica Harris and Kevin Coble; her granddaughter, Sara Grace Coble; her sisters and brothers-in-law, Betty and Jon Barnett and Kay Day and James Peebles, all of Fort Worth; and by her dog, Blossom.
(This profile taken from an obituary in The Dallas Voice, posted on January 6, 2011, and other sources.)
Biography Date: January, 2011