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he following is a transcript of the opening remarks of House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris delivered June 22 to a joint gathering of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops at the 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Watch a video of the opening remarks online.

Hello, deputies; hello, Official Youth Presence; hello, bishops and visitors, esteemed guests of the 81st General Convention!

It is such an immense joy to be here with you all today, finally, in Louisville, Kentucky–you’re practicing that, right? It’s “Loovull,” “Looaville”; there you go, all right—our incredible host city for the 81st General Convention of The Episcopal Church and what has become my new second home. I want to express my deepest gratitude to Bishop White and the deputies of Kentucky. I want to thank the diocesan staff that have been working long hours, and the tireless effort that has gone into preparing this amazing gathering. Your hospitality has not gone unnoticed already, and we’re just getting started. I hope that all the rest of you have time to experience the opportunities that are around us as you explore and to get to know this city and everything it has to offer.

Since the gavel came down at the 80th General Convention, it’s been 1,026,720 minutes. So if minutes are a little abstract, perhaps the 17,112 hours, or 713 days, or 23 months and 12 days. I like numbers; this has been my countdown clock. In that time, with the love of Jesus and one another to guide us, we have navigated through unprecedented challenges as church.

Personally, during this time, I got my braces off. Thanks! And when my braces came off I learned that I might be potentially close to a whistle for the first time in my life. Shall I try it? Are you ready? It’s going to be so underwhelming. Check this out.

You have all also embarked on this journey with me, and during this time there were moments in which I learned a lot about lessons in leadership; I learned how to navigate through a difficult Title IV process; and I learned that you sometimes have to chew through some really tough stuff before you can smile freely. I also learned that when your presiding bishop, your partner in leadership, sometimes partner in crime, is facing their own battles, that you have to tap into—and I had to tap into—my unshakable foundation of faith, strength, and resilience, and that carried me through—even if it meant flying solo for a little while. During this time and in these moments what I learned and what I realized is that we are all still works in progress, navigating this beautiful, messy journey together, forever anchored in our unwavering love of Jesus.

Two years ago, when you first elected me as your president, I stood before you and invited you to embark on a journey together. I knew the path would be challenging; that we would need to navigate uncharted territory and face unexpected obstacles. But I also knew that if we rolled up our sleeves, and tied up our hiking boots, and committed to walking together in love, that we could traverse any terrain and weather any storm. Little did I know how intense those storms would be.

Over two years, we grappled with the consequences of a global pandemic; we cried out for justice through racial reckoning; we fought as the basic human rights of our LGBTQ+ community have been eroded; we lived through ever increasing political polarization and grappled with an uncertain economic situation in the U.S. In our own body, we have navigated and will continue to navigate and address some uncomfortable truth-telling, big questions around our Title IV processes and our relationship with residential Indigenous boarding schools. And through it all, we held vigil for our beloved presiding bishop as he faced serious health challenges, always with courage, grace, and love.

The last two years have tested us in ways we could never have imagined. There may have been moments when the path seemed to disappear altogether, and when we couldn’t see a way forward through the fog of grief, fear, and doubt.

And in those darkest moments, we did what sojourners always do: We reached out to each other, offered a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, a light to guide the way. We remembered that we are not alone in this journey, that we have each other, that we have the Holy Spirit with us at every step. We drew strength from the sacred stories and songs sustained us for generations, reminding us of the power of faith, hope, and love in the face of adversity.

As I look back on the journey that we have shared, I am filled with gratitude, amazement, and hope. Gratitude for the countless ways that you have cared for each other and your communities, embodying Jesus’ love in action. Amazement at the creativity, resilience, and adaptability you have shown in the face of unprecedented challenges. And hope, because I have seen firsthand the depths of your faith, the strength of your commitment, and the power of our unity in Jesus.

And so, step by step, mile by mile, we kept walking—not always knowing where the path would lead, but trusting that it would take us somewhere new, somewhere better. And along the way, we discovered reserves of courage, and compassion, and creativity that we never knew we had. We found ways to connect with each other and our communities, to share the Gospel and serve our neighbors in need. We learned hard truths about ourselves and our church, and we began the painful but necessary work of repentance, healing, and transformation.

Now, as we gather for this 81st General Convention, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The road behind us is long and winding. The road ahead is foggy and uncertain. But one thing is clear: We cannot go back to where we were before. The world has changed, and so have we.

The only way forward is to keep walking together in love, to keep leaning on each other and listening for God’s still, small voice in the wilderness.

Even in the midst of these difficulties, we have seen remarkable signs of faithfulness, creativity, and resilience across our Episcopal Church, like wildflowers blooming after a rare rainfall in the desert.

One place where resilience has been evident is the work of our legislative committees. Even in the midst of this new normal that the pandemic has thrust upon us, these faithful servants dove headfirst into the vital work of tending and nurturing the soil that is our church.

I must take a moment to recognize and celebrate our legislative committees for their incredible work that has been done in preparation for this General Convention. They have held 47 meetings and 55 open hearings over the last five months. And over that time, our legislative committees have heard over 2,500 testimonies—over 2,500 testimonies. And these testimonies, thanks to the support of the General Convention Office, who helps with all of our meetings, also helped make these testimonies happen in all of the languages that we speak as Episcopalians through our simultaneous interpretation. And our simultaneous interpreters are over there right now. That over 2,500—those are the people of our church speaking directly to the governance of our church in a way that has never been possible before. This is the ministry of governance in action, and I thank you.

Our legislative committees have been like diligent gardeners, tilling the soil, planting seeds, and nurturing the growth of new ideas and possibilities. They have planted the seeds of change and creativity and watered them with prayer and dedication. I am particularly proud that in the House of Deputies, 40% of those appointed to legislative committees self-identify as people of color, and that we have 70 deputies on legislative committees under the age of 40; and we have 145 deputies over the age of 65. And that’s just the beginning of the diversity that we have in the House of Deputies and on legislative committees.

These diverse voices and experiences are like a vibrant garden, each unique flower contributing to the overall beauty and strength of our church.

I am so deeply grateful for this model of service—this care and compassion for our whole body. As your president, I am so proud of the way that deputies show up time and time again to do the work they are called to do. Again, I thank you.

As we gather for this 81st General Convention, we have important work ahead of us. We are going to examine the ways that we care for our people, from health insurance to Title IV reforms to promoting mental health and wellness. We are going to consider what renewal looks like in the face of a changing church, exploring new models of diocesan structures, redefining congregational vitality beyond measuring plate and pledge or average Sunday attendance, and how we are going to be more inclusive to everyone who walks through our naves, working to become a church where all truly means all.

We are also going to engage in the sacred work of discernment as we will be electing leaders for critical roles. These include the president and vice president of the House of Deputies, members of Executive Council, representatives to the board of the Church Pension Group, and so much more. In a world that often resorts to division and personal attacks in electoral processes, we are called to model a different way, one rooted in our faith and our commitment to the well-being of our church. We ground ourselves in prayer, seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We will strive to engage in respectful dialogue, focusing on issues and the qualifications of those who have been called to serve. And we will remember that, ultimately, our allegiance is to Jesus and to the mission of this church.

And of course, we have one major election that will shape the future and voice of our church for years to come, and that is of the 28th presiding bishop. This decision is one of profound spiritual significance, one that demands our most prayerful, thoughtful consideration. As Episcopalians, we do not engage in this process as a political contest, but as a collective discernment of God’s will for our church.

On June 26, the House of Bishops, the junior house, will gather at Christ Church Cathedral in a spirit of prayerful deliberation to elect the next presiding bishop for The Episcopal Church. Following their election, the House of Deputies, the senior house, will have the responsibility of confirming or not confirming that choice. As we undertake this sacred duty, I pray we will be guided not by personal preferences or worldly considerations, but by the sincere desire to follow the lead of the calling of the Holy Spirit. May we approach this moment with humility, with open hearts, and with a deep sense of responsibility for our church.

This calling—this is exactly what we are called to do when we share discernment. It’s  the heart of what it means to be “Together in Love.”

Over the past two years, I’ve traveled across our international church. I’ve met with countless faithful Episcopalians—many of you are in this room. I’ve come to understand that “Together in Love” is more than just a slogan. It is a sacred charge, a holy calling, to embody Christ’s reconciling love in all that we say and all that we do. It means committing ourselves to the hard work, the holy work that is justice, not in the abstract, but in concrete realities and actions in our communities and of our churches.

Through this experience and reflection, I’ve leaned on three key priorities, bringing together our call to Christlike love with the work of governance and church leadership. These priorities are accessibility, inclusivity, and safety—essential values for realizing our commitment to be a church where all are truly welcomed, valued, and empowered to exercise leadership.

Accessibility is about far more than ramps and elevators, though those are critically important. It’s about cultivating a culture of radical welcome, where every person knows that they belong and every voice matters. It means examining the ways in which our structures, systems, and culture may be inadvertently blocking people from the room, literally. It means actively working to dismantle those barriers, literally. In the House of Deputies, we’ve taken steps in this direction by providing extensive translation services, simultaneous interpretation, and offering broad digital access to legislative materials, as well as working to make our processes more transparent and participatory. And we still have so much more work to do to truly live into the promise of accessibility.

Inclusivity is the sacred work of recognizing the image of God in every person. It means honoring the beautiful diversity of the human family and ensuring that our leadership reflects the full spectrum of God’s people. Because too often, the voices of those on the margins—people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, immigrants, and so many others—have been excluded from the halls of power of our church. As we engage issues of justice and representation, we must do so with deep humility, committing ourselves to the careful listening and intentional learning of those with lived experience. We must be willing to hear and confront hard truths about the ways in which our church has fallen short, and to do the work of repentance and repair. Because only then can we become the Beloved Community that we proclaim to be.

And safety is the foundation from which all of our work must be built. In a world where too many have experienced the pain of abuse, discrimination, and exclusion, the church must be a sanctuary of healing and hope—a dream of which we are sometimes falling short. This means not only ensuring physical safety, but also creating environments of emotional and spiritual care. It means having clear and compassionate policies to address misconduct, and walk alongside survivors with sensitivity and support.

And to that end, I invite all deputies and alternate deputies to sign a voluntary House of Deputies Community Covenant, committing ourselves to the values of respect, trust, and mutual care that must guide our work together. As people of faith, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s peace, working to heal wounds and to build bridges of understanding.

I am grateful to the 574 members of the House of Deputies who have already signed the voluntary Community Covenant. Thank you.

As we live into these values of accessibility, inclusivity, and safety, we offer the world a counter-cultural witness in a world that is so often marred by division and distrust. We proclaim by word and example the power of Jesus’ reconciling love to break down walls, to bind up the brokenhearted. This, my friends, is the heart of our calling as church—to be a beacon of hope, a community of care, and a force for healing in a broken world.

So as we gather for this 81st General Convention, may we come with open and expectant hearts, ready to be led by the Spirit into God’s future for our church. May we commit ourselves anew to walking “Together in Love,” even when the road is hard. May we draw strength from the living waters of our faith, trusting that the same God who has brought us thus far will surely lead us into our future church.

I am so grateful to each and every one of you—for your presence here today, for your faithfulness in prayer and service, for the many ways in which you embody Christ’s love in your community. I am humbled and honored to serve alongside you in this sacred work. “Together in Love,” may we continue to plant the seeds of hope and justice, trusting that the promise of God will surely bring harvest.

May God bless you, may God bless our beloved Episcopal Church, and may God bless the communities we serve. Together in love, let us go forth in courage and truth.