President Jennings gave these remarks on April 21 at the opening session of the Executive Council meeting on April 21, 2018:
Good morning, and welcome to Austin! It’s 75 days until the first day of legislative business. Just in case you are keeping track. I am!
Since we met in January, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with and communicating with scores of deputies who are preparing for our time together at General Convention. Again this triennium, I am extraordinarily impressed with the commitment and focus of both new and returning deputies, and especially deputy legislative committee officers. As I announced when I appointed them in November, this group of officers is the youngest and most diverse ever to serve at General Convention. Forty-five percent are under the age of 50, 18% are people of color, and at least 15% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
This House of Deputies will be the first in history to be majority female, and 52% of our legislative committee leaders will be women. Forty-two percent of the 852 deputies are first-time deputies. Twenty-four percent will be deputies for the second time, meaning that two-thirds of the deputies–66%–are new or relatively new. Only 7% of deputies are senior deputies, meaning they have served at seven or more conventions. Twenty-four percent of all deputies are people of color, and 53% are female.
I’m also grateful for the collegial and supportive work of so many members of the Presiding Bishop’s staff. As deputies prepare for convention, we are seeking information and advice from many staff members, and I have been delighted to establish and reestablish such collaborative, collegial working relationships between deputies and staff members.
I am particularly grateful to Rebecca Blachly and the members of the Office of Government Relations who have spent so much time helping deputies who are working on advocacy issues in our largely post-standing commission polity. And I am grateful to Bronwyn Skov for her work with the Official Youth Presence, including the group’s recruitment, selection and training.
I especially want to note the exceptional work and my gratitude for the Executive Officer of General Convention, Michael Barlowe, and his staff as they prepare for General Convention so we can all go and be about that important work.
In January, I mentioned several task forces, committees, and commissions whose work I thought would bear fruit at convention. Since then, the Blue Book Reports of two groups I mentioned—the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music—have been posted, and you can see for yourself the careful work they have presented to us for consideration in July. I also continue to be grateful to the members of the Israel and Palestine Working Group that the Presiding Bishop and I appoint to ensure that this difficult issue receives a thorough and fair hearing at General Convention.
Here are a few other committees and task forces whose work I hope you will consider closely before General Convention begins:
- The Task Force on the Study of Marriage has made recommendations concerning marriage liturgies and blessings of lifelong covenant relationships and how to ensure that we achieve true marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.
- The House of Deputies State of the Church Committee has addressed issues of parity between clergy and lay employees and between domestic and international pension plans administered by the Church Pension Fund. The committee has also addressed attributes of the Denominational Health Plan that adversely affect some dioceses, and the fact that the current pension structure, which is based on a purely income-replacement model, perpetuates and reinforces disparities of income that are often manifest across gender and racial or ethnic lines.
- The Task Force on the Episcopacy has made recommendations about how we can foster greater diversity among our leaders, including the bishops we elect, and how we can restructure to make the bishop search and election process more sustainable and beneficial for our dioceses and those leaders called to be bishops.
- The Task Force on The Episcopal Church in Cuba has made recommendations about admitting The Episcopal Church in Cuba as a diocese, which would restore the status it had before Cuba’s revolution in 1959.
- Socially responsible investing and divestment are likely to be the subject of resolutions submitted by any number of dioceses. To that end, the presiding bishop and I revamped the Legislative Committee on Stewardship and Development to be the Legislative Committee on Stewardship and Socially Responsible Investing.
- The Task Force on Clergy Leadership Formation in Small Churches (which means almost everyone) is proposing innovative and compelling ways to form leaders for the 21st century church and doing away with the mantra “But we’ve always done it this way.”
- Program, Budget & Finance (PB&F) is already hard at work crafting a budget that can contain our hopes for sustainable mission and ministry in the next triennium. Bishop Steve Lane, who serves at PB&F’s vice-chair, told me that the budget PB&F received from Executive Council is the best budget he’s seen in all his time serving on PB&F.
Thanks to all of you, and especially the members of FFM [the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission] along with Kurt [Kurt Barnes, Episcopal Church treasurer and chief financial officer] and his staff, we had a vastly improved budget process that resulted in a better, more transparent product, developed with more input from the wider church and more collaboration with the members of PB&F, the Presiding Bishop’s staff, and leaders across the church.
You might remember that the last time we met, the Presiding Bishop and I announced that we were releasing a letter calling all of us to examine the church’s history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. Thanks to the scores of women who came forward in the wake of that letter with stories, ideas and proposals, I appointed and am chairing the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation to draft legislation for General Convention. This group of 47 women is busy—very busy, let me tell you—researching and writing legislation on a variety of issues related to #metoo, including theology and language, structural equity including pay and benefits, the Title IV disciplinary process, social justice for women, and the creation of a truth and reconciliation process.
The resolutions they create will be referred to bishop and deputy legislative committees at General Convention and must pass both houses before they would take effect, so there will be plenty of opportunity for women and men across the church to weigh in on what I think will be truly substantive proposals for addressing sexual exploitation in the church—past, present and future.
I am especially grateful to alternate deputy Ruth Meyers of California for serving as the vice-chair of the special committee and the convener of one its sub-committees, and to alternate deputy Marisa Tabizon Thompson of Nebraska, former deputy Megan Castellan now in Central New York, and Deputies Laurie Brock of Lexington and Laura Russell of Newark for chairing its other sub-committees.
And while I’m making my gratitude list, I’m mindful that this is our last Executive Council meeting of this triennium. Now, I’m not saying I’m grateful for that. But it has been a great privilege to serve with all of you in the last three years, and I am grateful that each of you has been called to the ministry of governance. Thank you for your time, your commitment, and your steadfast care for our beloved church.
photo credit: Deputy John Johnson IV