By James R. Hart, D.W.S.
In Honor of Dr. Darrell A. Harris, Dean Emeritus of the Chapel
From the Beginning
In June of 1999, the first session of the Institute for Worship Studies (IWS), Darrell Harris began serving as the Chaplain of the Institute. Dr. Harris’s experience in chaplaincy ministry, his dedication to spiritual formation, his knowledge and appreciation of worship, music and the fine arts, his willingness to connect the leadership of IWS with valuable resources and persons, his willingness to be transparent in his own spiritual journey, and his enthusiastic and sacrificial chaplaincy service have been critical in the growth of IWS. Additionally, when IWS suffered the death of its founder, Robert Webber, Darrell helped significantly in guiding the Institute through this difficult time. Although Chaplain Harris is officially stepping back from active service, he is still involved with IWS as a special spiritual advisor and valued mentor.
Darrell Harris spent twenty-five years in the Christian music business. In 1976, along with his wife and former IWS Board of Trustees Chair Janet Harris, the Harrises founded Star Song, a contemporary Christian recording company. Darrell developed and marketed the music of Twila Paris, Newsboys, Bill Gaither Trio and Vocal Band, and Petra. Star Song was also involved in book publishing and was the original publisher of The Complete Library of Christian Worship along with other titles by Robert E. Webber.
Since retiring from Star Song in 1996, Dr. Harris has served in chaplaincy ministry in the music community and among others in leadership in the body of Christ. In addition to his role in the Institute for Worship Studies, he served as first chaplain to the Gospel Music Association (1997 – 2000) as well as chaplain to Christian Artists Seminar of the Rockies and Music Florida. He also serves as Trustee to the Gospel Music Trust Fund. His work includes writing, public speaking and consultation. Darrell is the first recipient of an honorary doctorate at IWS, the D.W.S. Honoraria degree.
Janet Harris, his wife, has also spent her life in service to ministers, and has always been a full partner in his work of pastoral care and ministry. Janet and Darrell both served on the IWS Board of Trustees until the accreditation process with ABHE began and staff members and family members were precluded from board service.
Dr. Harris is a self-described autodidact, in league with such greats as poet William Blake; guitarist, singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix; architect, Frank Lloyd Wright; artist, Vincent van Gogh; electrical engineer and inventor, Nikola Tesla; Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Sienna; philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal; American abolitionist, women’s suffragist, orator, statesman, and reformer, Booker T. Washington; billionaire, Henry Ford; entrepreneur and advocate for racial justice, Frederick Douglass; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H.; and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, among many others, all card-carrying autodidacts. Where would the world be without such amazingly brilliant and talented autodidacts! And Darrell is right there with the best of them.
I have a few special memories of Darrell’s tenure here at IWS. There was the time Bob Webber pulled me aside at dinner to tell me that he thought Darrell may be dead! He was obviously quite concerned. He had seen Darrell lying perfectly still by the hotel pool and then didn’t see him at dinner, so he assumed the worst. In response to Bob’s grave concern, we sent a special envoy to the hotel to check on his well-being, or recover his remains, and they found Darrell very much alive but just late for dinner. I’m pleased to inform you that he is still alive to this day.
A few months before Bob Webber’s untimely death, he called me to inform me that he didn’t think the school could survive after he was gone, and we should begin plans to teach-out our students and close our doors. Of course, I was alarmed. I had been president only for a matter of weeks. I called Darrell for his assurance that we would be okay, and he said, “Well, it’s been a great run, hasn’t it?” I exclaimed, “Darrell, I’m looking for some reassurance here.” His response, “God gives us these glorious glimpses of His Kingdom. If IWS goes away, it has all been worth these golden moments.” Thanks, Darrell. IWS is also still alive!
When Bob Webber became ill with pancreatic cancer, a special healing service was held in Michigan at his home church in Sawyer, Michigan. Bob asked Darrell to preside at the Eucharist, which was a particularly special honor and, in a way, a spiritual endorsement from Bob. The legacy was being passed, slowly but deliberately.
In the early days of IWS, Darrell’s role in chapel was basically to preach a homily. Chapel leadership was student-led and quite varied, until one day when a chapel service had gone particularly poorly. Bob pulled Darrell and me aside to his “branch office” (Dunkin’ Donuts) and said to both of us, “That can never happen again.”
The new plan was for us to work within a three-fold monastic structure, with consistent forms of psalmody, solidly engaging proclamation and preaching of God’s Word, prayer that was directed to be both comprehensive and spiritually sensitive, and other appropriate liturgical elements (such as the sursum corda, the Our Father, the mystery of faith, and passing the peace). Chapels immediately improved. Then, under Darrell’s careful and pastoral guidance, they went from good to phenomenal. Morning chapels remain a highlight for many in the IWS community, thanks to the dedicated leadership, hard work and spiritual sensitivity of our Dean Emeritus of the Chapel, Dr. Harris.
Darrell served as a chaplain not just to IWS, but to Bob Webber and to me, holding us accountable for our spiritual health and giving us honest spiritual direction when needed. For that, I know Bob was grateful, and I am deeply appreciative as well.
Thank you, Dr. Harris, for your invaluable service to the Kingdom through your ministry at IWS!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.