Diocese: South Dakota
Briefly describe your experience in church governance.
At the diocesan level, I have served on countless different boards, committees, and commissions. I have served multiple terms on the Standing Committee, including seven years as President. In one of those years as President of the Standing Committee, my diocese had just elected a new Bishop. I have served four terms on Diocesan Executive Council, including three years as Vice President.
At the church-wide level, I served six years on the old Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons. I have been a deputy to General Convention in 1997, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2018, and am serving again this year, 2022. I was deputation chair in 2009, 2018, and will be again this year, 2022. In 2003, I served as a member of the legislative committee on Canons. In 2006, I served as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Structure. In 2009, 2012, and 2018, I served as Secretary of Dispatch of Business, as I will this year, 2022. In 2015 and 2018, I served as a member of the Secretariate of the House of Deputies with primary responsibilities as AV Director for the House of Deputies, a role I will reprise this year, 2022.
Outside the church, I have more than 20 years of experience serving on the Boards of Directors for multiple non-profit institutions, including 16 years as President of the Board.
Why do you want to serve as President of the House of Deputies?
I want to serve as President of the House of Deputies because I believe I have the right combination of gifts, experiences, and love for this institution and its role in incarnating the full participation of lay persons and non-episcopate clergy into the task of discerning God’s call to The Episcopal Church today and in the years to come. This election is about us, working together and prayerfully discerning God’s will. The church is one of the greatest examples of the principle that the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. Building relationships, listening to one another, working together for the common good of all, these have always been and will continue to be the foundations of my leadership. I want to be a voice for justice in this world where justice is under attack daily. I want to help lead the church through these still abnormal times into a new way of being the body of Christ, a way that expands upon the beloved community and focuses on welcoming everyone into their spiritual home.
Describe your most meaningful experience in a leadership or legislative role, and explain its relevance to your candidacy. (This experience need not have taken place within the church.)
Nearly two decades ago, I was the President of the Board of Directors for a non-profit institution that contracted with local county governments in northern Wisconsin to provide services to individuals with profound physical or mental differences. When I first joined the board, I found a focus on meeting the requirements placed upon us by the counties. I also learned that most of the board members had never made a site visit to one of our residential facilities or one of the job sites where our clients were working. With a single exception, none of the board members knew any of our clients personally or had even met them. When I became President of the Board three years later, I instituted a regular visitation schedule so that every member of our Board of Directors would visit a residential facility and a job site at least annually and they all came to know two or three of our clients personally. This was not easy, as you might imagine. These were doctors, lawyers, and business people from the community who were not accustomed to meeting with people like our clients. Over the next two years, I watched the Board’s focus shift dramatically away from meeting the counties’ requirements to meeting the client’s needs. We added a client representative to the Board of Directors, and a “Client Feedback” item to the regular agenda. Over the next five years, this new approach profoundly changed how the institution did its work and impacted the larger community. In short, we stopped being a service and became a ministry. As a result, before I left northern Wisconsin, the people that society had previously tried to ignore came to be seen as contributing members of the community with a dignity and respect of their own. Was my program of visits the sole reason for it? No. Yet these relationships became the base upon which many other ideas became reality.
How is this relevant to my candidacy? Leadership in ministry is all about relationships. We see the result of the lack of relationship in the often-deplorable behavior so prevalent in social media. We must, first and foremost, be in relationship with one another and with those in need around us. As we work together as the community of the House of Deputies and in the larger church, it is our relationships that will bring reconciliation and healing, that will provide us with the means to bridge whatever may divide us, that will enable us to be more Christ-like in the world.
What are the most significant challenges facing our church and how do you propose to address them?
Our most immediate challenge is discovering how to be the church in this new COVID reality. All our lives changed with the arrival of COVID. We began to understand that in March 2020. Now, two and a half years later, we are still only beginning to discover how much our world has changed. Congregations across our denomination, and in most faith traditions, have suffered a body blow the likes of which the Church has not seen since at least the early 1900s and more probably since the time of the great plagues of the Middle Ages. In the midst of this struggle, faithful people are finding new and exciting ways to be the Body of Christ. Our role (because it is our role and not just that of the President of the House of Deputies) is to encourage this experimentation and provide ways for the knowledge gained to be shared across the church and to the larger public.
We are also challenged to witness to and support the ongoing march of history toward a world that more nearly incarnates that heavenly city that John saw coming down from heaven. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Individually as followers of Christ and institutionally as the body of Christ made manifest on this earth, we are called to be a force helping to bend that arc. We must give voice to those whose voices are not heard, we must touch the untouchable, we must go where we are told no one should go, and we must break bread with the outcast. In the words of a meme I saw on Facebook, “Justice: It’s a Jesus thing.” God wants all people to be fed, housed, cared for, and loved. God wants all people to be respected for the children of God they are. God wants all people to participate fully in the community and the benefits that the community brings. This is God’s justice.
We cannot bend that arc if we remain part of the foundation holding the old arc in place. We are a denomination that was born and developed within the world of white privilege. (And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of me, someone who my Lakota siblings would call wasicu – the white guy – making this statement while running for President of the House of Deputies.) We have to change. I have to change. In my lifetime, the Episcopal Church has taken many strides along the path that leads to the promised land. In this regard, those strides have often been stumbling at best. We must do better. 2,000 years ago, Jesus broke with the dominant culture of his day by eating with tax collectors and sinners, by speaking with women he didn’t know, by including women as main characters in some of the parables he told. He wasn’t concerned with “fitting in.” He wanted to lead people to a better way of living. We should want nothing less and I will settle for nothing less. As wasicu, the only way I can succeed in this is with a lot of help from others. I want to build a leadership team that is more diverse than the church, because, if I am a leader, I need to hear those voices every day. I need to be reminded daily that my reality is a privileged one and that women, people of color, people of different gender identity, people of different socio-economic status, people with different physical abilities, people of different ages, and many others do not experience this same reality.
The last challenge that I will speak about here (there are many others, but bandwidth is a precious thing) is that of staying relevant in society without abandoning our Traditions and customs. The old liturgist was right, lex orandi lex credendi, the language of prayer is the language of belief. The words we pray are important, because they shape how we believe and those beliefs shape our actions. Linguistically speaking, the 1979 BCP was well ahead of its time. But the texts were primarily crafted nearly five decades ago and in those five decades the vernacular has shifted, in some cases dramatically. I am very fond of the image of constrained expansion in our liturgical texts that is being proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. This provides a strong link to our past that grounds our faith. Simultaneously it frees us to explore new imagery and forms of expression to enrich our worship experience. The imagery of our worship has been bound tightly to images that arose from or were forced upon the Church of England in its formative years. As President of the House of Deputies, I will fight for continued expansion of our liturgical texts in ways that allow local communities to express the unchanging faith of the Church in their own voice and using images that speak to their own experience of God’s creation.
Are there specific changes you would like to make in the way the House of Deputies functions or the role the president and vice president play in the wider church?
The Presidents and Vice Presidents of the House of Deputies that I have witnessed over my lifetime have consistently helped guide the church toward more inclusion of all her members, lay and ordained, in all aspects of leadership and ministry. I hope to continue this pattern and build upon their successes. I see a great opportunity to bring more people into the discussions and debates of the church by increasing our use of technologies that enable our virtual presence with one another. Coming from South Dakota, home to several of the counties with the lowest per capita income in the country, I am profoundly aware that many of our people cannot afford internet access. Others live in communities where broadband communication is still not available. Many people who live on the fringes of society in one way or another are in danger of being left behind as the world moves more deeply into this new technologically driven interconnectedness. As a part of bringing greater interconnectedness to the church, we need to help those congregations that exist within our poorest communities to provide access to this technology not just for their use in church-related tasks, but also to help them minister to their communities by becoming hubs of connectedness.
Our experience in preparing for this General Convention has shown us that we can be much more creative, flexible, and relational in how we do our work. The next President of the House of Deputies will need to work with other leaders to determine how best to incorporate this technology into future General Conventions. The ability to hold a committee hearing where anyone in the world with an internet connection can look over our shoulders, provides us with a powerful opportunity to witness to the world that it is possible to debate and wrestle over very important matters upon which we have great division and remain in relationship with one another.
Is there anything else voters should know about you?
I was born into a farm family in southern Minnesota and am a cradle Episcopalian. My mother’s family was Roman Catholic and my father’s was Methodist. My dad was the president of the American Soybean Growers Association and then worked for USAID on a food project in Tanzania. As an elementary aged child I was allowed to be “free range” in Africa. The village near the project, Dar es Salaam’s markets, and the hundreds of acres of project land were my playground to explore by myself. I have been married to my wife, Barbara, for nearly 39 years. We have three grown children who are now all off on their own. My undergraduate work is in Accounting, Business Management, and Computer Science. After working as the accountant for a public school district for three years, I fired myself (they didn’t need a full-time accountant, but a part-time bookkeeper) and left for seminary with my spouse and a preschooler. My mother, Alma Simpson, was a deacon in the Diocese of Minnesota. (At the time I was ordained, Bishop Bob Anderson thought we were the first mother-deacon, son-priest combination in the Episcopal Church.) I was ordained a deacon in June 1991 and a priest in December 1991 at age 29. I first served in the Diocese of Eau Claire as vicar of two small missions for three years, then as rector of a parish for 14 years. In 2009 I was called to be Dean of Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls, in the Diocese of South Dakota. I am now the second-longest serving Dean in Calvary’s history. I enjoy fishing, sailing, reading (classic Science Fiction mainly), refed soccer from U-8 to college level, hold a brown belt in Shotokan karate, and I once drove in a stock car race, coming in second. Finally, I ask for your prayers and I offer you mine. General Convention and the deputies and bishops who will be attending are in my prayers daily. May God grant us safety as we gather, discernment once we are together, grace to accomplish the tasks God have given us, and, finally, rest at the day’s end. Amen.