House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Opening Remarks to Executive Council March 2015

President Jennings gave these remarks to the opening session of the Episcopal Church Executive Council on March 19, 2015:

I’ve recently finished a marathon. I didn’t run 26.2 miles—with the winter we’ve had in Ohio, it would have been more practical to ice skate that far—but I did recently complete the long, absorbing, and fulfilling process of appointing deputies to legislative committees for General Convention. You can find the committee rosters on the House of Deputies website. The canons require that appointments be made public within 30 days of being made (thanks to Resolution D045 submitted by Deputy Katie Sherrod and adopted by General Convention in 2009); I’m proud to say that we did it within 30 hours, and deputy committee chairs have already been instructed to convene their committees and begin work.

I’ve learned in the last few months that making legislative committee appointments is one of the most difficult and rewarding parts of my job. Not all deputies can serve on a committee—the committees would simply be too large to function—and not all deputies can be appointed to the committees on which they most hoped to serve. That’s the difficult part. The rewarding part is learning more about deputies’ skills, experience, and gifts in order to appoint committees with diverse and deep understanding of the issues at hand. I’m grateful to all of the deputies, including many of you, who have answered my calls and emails with grace and patience as I have drafted and re-drafted committee rosters.

This year, thanks to a new committee structure that the Presiding Bishop and I developed last summer and a new House of Deputies Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, I have been able to make 547 appointments to legislative committees—a 27% increase over General Convention 2012. I’m also glad to say that all deputies who completed the committee preference survey and who have served at three or more conventions have been appointed. But legislative committees are not just the purview of long-time deputies; more than 35% of first-time deputies have also been appointed.

These first-time deputies, who make up 46% of the House of Deputies, are only part of the great chance this General Convention will provide to learn more about how our structures can change as our Episcopal identity stays strong. This General Convention will also be a laboratory for learning from young leaders and watching the structures of the church change as its leaders change the way we work. Traditionally at General Convention, senior deputies—those of us who practically remember the first General Convention in 1785—have had the knowledge and expertise to navigate the way things work. But in 2015, as you know, we’re embarking on our first paperless convention. Every deputy and every bishop will be issued an iPad—the old fat binders filled with reams of paper are gone for good. Deputies will carry a keycard with them and will need to swipe it before they speak at a microphone. Instead of sending messages back and forth between the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies on papyrus scrolls, someone will actually push a button and send the message electronically. Amazing!

All of this means that the senior deputies, with their decades of experience, are going to need to learn from deputies who are digital natives—young adults who don’t ever remember a world in which we didn’t carry computers in our pockets. We’re all going to need one another in different kinds of ways, and it’s going to change the way we work, change the way we are networked, and change the way we envision the kingdom of God.

I’m hoping that General Convention also provides us with practical experience in doing the kinds of restructuring that don’t require permission from a task force or a resolution. You all have that kind of restructuring to do in your congregations, dioceses, and ministries, and so do I. I’ve spent a good deal of time talking with deputies and former deputies to explore how to move legislation more efficiently through General Convention and reduce the bottlenecks that we have sometimes encountered in previous years. In 2015, we’ll use the tools already available to us to streamline the legislative process.

One of those tools is use of legislative aides. This convention, for the first time, we have an open application process for those volunteers who will help committee officers navigate the legislative process and serve as liaisons with the Dispatch of Business committee. Alternate deputies and volunteers who are planning to attend General Convention are invited to apply by March 31. Please spread the word and visit the House of Deputies website or the General Convention website for all the details.

These next few months will be busy with work as we prepare to return to this beautiful city with several thousand of our friends and colleagues in tow. But it’s essential work, because General Convention is where we ensure that the mission of the Episcopal Church is strong and vibrant. When we serve at General Convention, we are servants of mission. We elect people to serve on policy-making bodies, we adopt a budget to provide resources so people, congregations, and dioceses are equipped and strengthened for ministry, we pass resolutions and adopt polices that point us in the direction of being witnesses for Christ to a world in desperate need of hope and healing. As we do this work, we all need to hold fast to our identity as servants of God and God’s mission in the Episcopal Church, just as surely as our sisters and brothers called to other kinds of ministry in God’s church.

Recently I had the chance to experience just how our governance can make our mission possible. Thanks to Christopher Hayes, chancellor of the Diocese of California, I had the opportunity to put decades of General Convention resolutions into action by being a lead signer on an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of reversing the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against civil marriage equality. The brief was also signed by 21 of our bishops and more than 200 Episcopal clergy and lay leaders, and it cites five General Convention resolutions:  Resolution D007 from 1994, Resolution D039 from 2000, Resolution A095 from 2006, Resolution A167 from 2006 and Resolution A049 from 2012.

The day after we submitted the brief, media outlets including USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, the Detroit Free Press, the Living Church and Episcopal Café all covered the news. Thanks to the people who have served faithfully at General Convention for nearly 40 years, we Episcopalians are able to make a witness to the Supreme Court and to the people of this country that we stand against legal discrimination in any form, and that every citizen is entitled to equal protection under the law. So on April 28, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in this case, and in June—perhaps even when we’re at General Convention—when they issue a ruling, remember that your ministry of governance in the Episcopal Church has made it possible for us to take our place as Christians in the public square.

This is our last Executive Council meeting of this triennium. It has been a great privilege to serve with all of you, and I am grateful that each of you has been called to be servants of mission in this way. I must give special mention to Bryan Krislock who has served as a member of Council for eight years – 26% of his entire life! His reward is to serve as my parliamentarian in the House of Deputies this summer.

As we prepare for the election of a new presiding bishop, I especially want to give thanks for the tireless ministry of Bishop Katharine these nine years, and for the dignity and spiritual clarity with which she has led our beloved Episcopal Church and guided it through turbulent times in the Anglican Communion. Her commitment to the Five Marks of Mission has inspired all of us to care for the poor, remember the outcast, and heal the world. As a woman who entered seminary just weeks after the Philadelphia Eleven were ordained, I have particularly admired her ability to handle with grace the particular challenges that come with being the first woman to hold any position of leadership, and I will always be grateful that we have served together. Thank you, Bishop Katharine, and thanks to all of you. I look forward to our work together these next few days.