House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Moving Forward Together: Executive Council Opening Remarks

President Jennings gave these opening remarks to an online meeting of Executive Council on June 25:

Good morning. It’s good to be with all of you on Zoom today. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes since our last Executive Council meeting in April, when my remarks had to be recorded in advance due to my shoulder replacement surgery. I’m very glad to say that I am past the most difficult part of my recovery now, and I am regularly submitting myself to the tortures of an excellent physical therapist. I give thanks for him, my surgeon—who by the way, is a good Episcopalian—and all of the medical staff who have made it possible for me to have not one, but two new shoulders in the last several years. Deputies, look out: I will be able to preside pain-free over the House of Deputies next summer during long legislative sessions!

In between physical therapy appointments, I have been making good use of the data from a survey that deputies and alternate deputies were invited to complete in March about their legislative committee preferences for the 80th General Convention. I am in the home stretch now, and we expect to post House of Deputies legislative committee rosters soon. As I have been finalizing appointments to legislative committees, I have found the findings of the Racial Justice Audit that we will discuss in plenary session tomorrow to be invaluable.

At the past two General Conventions, we have made significant progress in raising up a new, more diverse generation of leaders in the House of Deputies, and that progress will accelerate at the 80th General Convention. In particular, since 2015 we have made significant efforts to ensure that people of color are leaders on committees addressing all areas of the church’s mission—constitution and canons, evangelism, Title IV, and more—and not just on social justice and racial reconciliation committees where the audit report tells us that people of color can feel pigeonholed. For example, at this convention, half of the deputies on the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance—the powerful committee that builds on the work of Executive Council and prepares the final General Convention budget—are people of color.

The Racial Justice Audit tells us that “White dominant culture often mystifies power structures and access to these structures and creates confusion around navigating them.” Ensuring that House of Deputies legislative committees represent the full diversity of the church will not automatically correct the manifestations of structural racism that exist at General Convention, but I hope that more diverse legislative committee leadership and membership helps us make inroads in eradicating some of the injustice identified by the audit and helps General Convention lead our church ever closer to Beloved Community.

Our witness as Episcopalians is more essential every day. The news is filled with headlines about Christians who threaten to withhold the sacraments—can you imagine weaponizing the Eucharist?–from leaders who support reproductive health care, Christians who align their churches with white supremacist movements, and Christians who seek to deny LGBTQ families the ability to provide loving foster homes. As I said last week when the Supreme Court handed down its disappointing decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, “Religious liberty is a bedrock of our country and a right cherished by Americans of many faiths. But disguising homophobia as religious freedom … is not only a dangerous legal precedent, it is a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus.” The same goes for disguising misogyny and white supremacy as religious liberty.

Especially now, when Christianity and white nationalism are far too often conflated, I am very glad that we will have time at this meeting for a discussion of the excellent report on deradicalization prepared for us by the Office of Government Relations and the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. I hope that if you have not yet had the opportunity to read the report, you will be able to make time between now and Sunday to do so. I am grateful to the staff of those offices for their work and for bringing to Executive Council such thoughtful and substantive options for us to consider.

The long-awaited 80th General Convention will convene in just a little over a year from now, and legislative business will begin in just a few months. Between now and then, we have what Louisa McKellaston, a deputy from Chicago and vice chair of the House of Deputies State of the Church Committee, calls our bonus year. During our bonus year, those of us privileged to serve the church as members of Executive Council have the opportunity to consider carefully the issues, initiatives, and priorities that we want to propose to General Convention. I am glad to say that two of those initiatives are already underway.

The Presiding Bishop has spoken eloquently about the working group that he and I will appoint to develop proposals for the 80th General Convention to help us reckon with our historic and current complicity with racial injustice. This working group will have the opportunity to propose the creation of truth and reconciliation opportunities that can inspire the energy, prayers and initiative of deputies and bishops from across the church. While we are in Baltimore, I pray that the Holy Spirit will move among us and bring us closer to telling the painful truths with which we must reckon before we can become fully the church we long to be.

Likewise, I have asked the chair of the Joint Standing Committee for Mission Within the Episcopal Church to take the work that has been done to date on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and use it to craft an “A” resolution for Executive Council to refer to General Convention. Just as the truth and reconciliation initiative must enlist the church at all levels, working toward eliminating our carbon footprint will require a broad grassroots initiative. The Presiding Bishop and I have agreed that these two initiatives, and all other significant policy proposals, are best created by the kind of broad consultation and debate that takes place at General Convention. Especially as we emerge from the pandemic, we must move forward together, carefully considering the experiences, resources, and priorities of the whole church in our discernment about major new initiatives. It is not the role of Executive Council to supplant the broad consultation that takes place at General Convention, but we can and should craft a strong resolution on emissions for the legislative committees that will carry the work forward.

These are two of the vital churchwide initiatives most on my mind as we turn ourselves toward Baltimore and the joyful reunion we will have there. Thank you to all of you for your faithful leadership on these, and on so many other issues. I am looking forward to our time together this weekend.