Harrist Church

   The Harrist Church is one of the more important African Initiated Churches in West Africa. In 1910, William Wadé Harris (1865-1929), imprisoned in Liberia on treason charges, received a call from God. Upon his release in 1913, he began traveling through Ghana and the Ivory Coast, preaching and healing the sick. Accompanied by two women disciples who sang with the accompaniment of calabash rattles, he was a striking figure in a long white robe, turban, and black bands across his chest. He walked barefooted and carried a Bible, a staff shaped like a cross, and a gourd rattle. He preached a simple message - turn to the one true God, accept forgiveness from the Savior, and be baptized. He organized those who accepted his message into prayer groups and taught them to give up their traditional religious practices, follow God's commandments, and live in peace. He found a positive reception throughout West Africa, except from Roman Catholic priests. The older churches attempted to suppress his ministry, and Harris spent most of the 1920s in Liberia.
   Harris sent his converts to the local Methodist and Catholic churches for Sunday worship, though they also formed prayer groups that used African hymns and dances. Where there were no other Christian churches, they built their own. Harris refrained from attacking polygamy, which helped create a break with the Methodists. Shortly before his death, Harris seemed to be calling for a separate church; he passed along the symbols of his authority (his cane cross and a Bible) to John Ahui, the Harrist Church's first leader.
   In the Ivory Coast, where Harris's largest following was located, the movement faced continual repression; it was first officially organized only in 1955. By 1964, it was recognized as one of the country's four official religions. With a membership in excess of 350,000, the Harrist Church is the largest Protestant fellowship in the Ivory Coast, second in size only to Roman Catholicism. It is a member of the World Council of Churches.
   Further reading:
   ■ Gordon Mackay Haliburton, The Prophet Harris (London: Longmans, 1973)
   ■ Casely Hayford, William Waddy Harris: The West African Reformer (London: C. M. Phillips, 1915)
   ■ David A. Shank, Prophet Harris, the "Black Elijah" of West Africa (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994)
   ■ Sheila Suzanne Walker, The Religious Revolution in the Ivory Coast: The Prophet Harris and His Church (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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