President Ayala- Harris October opening remarks to Executive Council

Hello Executive Council! I wish that I were there with you in person!

President Jennings used to say at the beginning of her opening remarks to council that it is always difficult to follow Presiding Bishop Curry making these public statements. That is not the reason that I have pre-recorded these opening remarks today, although who could blame me if it were? 

On October 17th I will be fulfilling a promise that I made to a family member before being elected PHOD this summer. I will be in a rural part of the Florida Panhandle officiating the wedding of one of my many cousins, and this cousin, in particular, is much more like a sibling to me. So it is very important to me to be there to support my family in this way. But rest assured, I will be with you all tomorrow in time for our evening festivities. Executive Council has been like a family to me over the past 7 years and I am looking forward to meeting the new members of the family soon.

Speaking of family, as many of you know, my husband, teenager, and I are Star Trek fans. And as any Star Trek fan knows, there are different types of episodes. There are ones where we learn more about the crew and do a deep dive into their identities and relationships. There are episodes for the more anthropologist minded in which the storyline is focused on meeting a new community and learning their societal and cultural norms and values. And then, some episodes are all about action and adventure. In these action episodes, any fledgling Trekkie knows there is that moment when the pilot of the starship looks over their shoulder at the captain and gives the wide-eyed look of certain collision with an incoming object. Predictably the pilot exclaims to their crew, “Brace for impact!” And all the crew on deck intensely grabs and holds onto the ship. You can ask my spouse and child how much it annoys me that there are no seat belts in Star Trek universe for these moments. But more on that later.

“Brace for Impact” is the Star Trek line used right before a collision. Friends, we are facing a collision. Our future is coming at us fast as we are looking at a two-year biennium. At the same time, our history is catching up with us. For example, we are finally addressing our institutional involvement with Indigenous residential boarding schools. We are finally beginning the truth-telling around racism and white supremacy in our beloved church. And even in my new role as President of the House of Deputies, I am learning about the worldviews and statements of previous PHoDs. Leaders of our church, such as The Very Rev. James Craik, who served as president of the House of Deputies in the 1860s and whose writing fiercely both defended and promoted slavery. We are reckoning with how this history shapes us now as a church and how we will move forward into our future.

Brace for impact Executive Council. For we have much work to do and in such historic times. We are blessed to have two reminders to help us live into these moments and consider our future church because we have two babies among us. These children born to Executive Council members Sarah Stonesifer Boylan and Louisa McKellaston, will be going into kindergarten when the junior class cycles off of Executive Council. What church will these children of God be inheriting? What will our impact be?

I’ve done some considerable discerning around how I hope to live into what it means to be a PHoD at this moment. During my times of discernment, what has come to me in prayer, are three priority themes for the work of my office. These priority themes are not meant to replace the pillars that are part of the Jesus Movement, which are evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Instead, these themes are like value lenses that I hope to use when I look at the work of the president of the House of Deputies. Over the next few weeks, and especially as our time together grows, you will hear me say them over and over again. My priority themes are accessibility, inclusivity, and safety at both structural and cultural levels. My purpose is that when taken together, these three priority themes will bring about institutional accountability.

So, what do these priorities look like in action? At this meeting of Executive Council, we are already looking at ways that we can make our church governance structures more accessible, inclusive, and safer. 

First, accessibility. For this priority theme, I am referring to accessibility both in an ability sense, such as wheelchairs, interpretation, and captioning services as well as talking about our norms, values, processes, and how we go about doing the business of doing church. To illustrate, the new budget process will allow us to simplify and streamline public input on our budget. This will allow more people from the wider church to understand and participate in our budgeting process. Therefore, the work of the Executive Council Joint Standing Committees on Finance and Governance and Operations will be critical to making our budget process more accessible to the whole church. 

When it comes to inclusivity, the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Operations, in consultation with the Chancellor to the PHoD Michael Glass and our CLO Kent Anker, will be considering adding a Declared Name and Pronoun Policy to our policy documents. For those of us returning members of Executive Council, who were present at our January 2022 meeting when we had an LGBTQ+ listening session, we listened to our trans and nonbinary relatives tell us their stories about their lived experiences in the Episcopal Church. They helped us understand how we can move forward as a church to be more inclusive, especially when it comes to the right use of names and pronouns. The work around the Declared Name and Pronoun Policy will honor the commitments that we, an institutional body of Executive Council, made to those siblings who spoke to us that day. It will also serve to honor them and their bravery as we look toward a future church that acknowledges that Jesus loves everyone as their whole authentic selves. 

Returning to our Star Trek phrase, brace for impact, for just a moment. My husband and daughter can attest that there is something that I do every single time when this happens. I complain that there are no seatbelts in the Star Trek universe. As I told you in the beginning, the characters hold onto a piece of the Starship, they don’t buckle themselves safely into a harness. And there are times when a harness is certainly necessary. 

Safety is the third priority theme because we cannot, with integrity as an institution, go about making our governance structures more accessible and inclusive if we are not creating safe spaces for our people. One of the ways that this Executive Council will be addressing the third priority theme of safety is through the work of Governance and Operations to go about the process of updating our harassment policies for both the DFMS and the Executive Council. This will give us the opportunity to show leadership across our church that we have invested in the best and most up-to-date policies in this area. Additionally, in the future, I hope to work with Mission Within to appoint a group to work on the creation of liturgies for victims/survivors of abuse. 

I believe it is through these three priority themes of accessibility, inclusivity, and safety that we will create a more equitable and accountable institution. Not just because new generations of young people expect or demand it of us if we want them to be a part of our church. But because Jesus calls us to be a church of integrity and Good News for the world. 

These will be some of the ways that we will prepare for the future, which is already here. Executive Council, it is time that we brace for impact!

Thank you, and I’ll see you soon!