The Reverend Barbara Harrison Seward MDiv '11, former priest-in-charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Harrisonburg, Va., started a new position as inaugural southern canon missioner in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem in Bethlehem, February. (Her companion Gigi, pictured here, was also promoted.) (Courtesy photo)

Seminary grad appointed to inaugural position in Pennsylvania Episcopal diocese

The Rev. Barbara Harrison Seward is the inaugural southern canon missioner in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She began her ministry on Feb. 15, 2022. [Read the announcement.]

Seward, a 2011 graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, most recently served as rector and priest in charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She connected with the church while studying at the seminary. From her time at EMS, Sewards notes the “great listening skills” and “that peace ethic and conflict resolution [that] rippled through every class.”

In her new position, Seward leads the mission priorities with half of the parishes in the diocese. She will work with the northern canon missioner and the canon for mission resources and chief operating officer, while also reporting to the diocese’s bishop. Her other responsibilities include helping to guide priorities and build partnerships among congregations and in the communities they serve.

Seward began the discernment process of serving in this role during the pandemic. She recognized a need within struggling communities, she says, both because of the pandemic and because of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. 

“All that fell into my sense of call, it raised up so much within me,” Seward said in a recent interview with EMS staff. “I wanted to be more than an establishment priest.” Her call, she says, is still unfolding.

Some of the priorities in the diocese are racial reconciliation and justice, clergy and lay formation, and creating healthy churches. Developing congregations is a skill Seward has “always had,” but she discovered that it was “better utilized from my being on the outside coming in.” This applies both to congregations and communities. “Wherever I go, I’m paying attention to the systems.”

What excites her most about the new role, Seward says, is getting to “help people see that we’re part of something bigger, even something bigger than the Episcopal church, but the church itself, regardless of denomination.” Seward draws energy both from “working with wonderful people” and “participating in the formation of the church.”

The Rt. Rev. Kevin D. Nichols spoke of Seward’s “warm pastoral presence, deep commitment to the most vulnerable and her diverse experience in serving congregations in the midst of difficult transitions.”

In addition to her Master of Divinity degree from EMS, Seward holds a bachelor’s degree from Fayetteville State University, a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Diploma in Anglican Studies from Virginia Theological Seminary. She has also served parishes in Minnesota, Illinois, and Maryland.