Group of bishops proposes compromise on thorny issue of paying House of Deputies president

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jun 28, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] A group of bishops has proposed a compromise on the question of whether the president of the House of Deputies should be paid, an issue that has proved divisive at previous General Conventions.

The compromise comes as the result of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s desire for the issue to get a “full and fair conversation” in the House of Bishops, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Sean Rowe told Episcopal News Service June 28.

That conversation began informally at the House of Bishops meeting in March. Rowe and the group then crafted Resolution B014 that would direct the church’s Executive Council to pay the House of Deputies president director’s fees “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”

The resolution, and others related to the issue, will be debated during the July 5-13 meeting of General Convention in Austin, Texas.

Corporations typically pay director’s fees to board members for providing services to the corporation. Rowe acknowledged that directors of nonprofit corporations and organizations are not always compensated in the same way. However, he said, “it does happen.”

Resolution B014 addresses two important concerns that the bishops’ group gleaned from the conversations, Rowe said. One was that the House of Deputies president role requires a significant enough time commitment that some aspects of the work need to be compensated. The other concern was that the compensation should happen in a way that does not change the polity of the church.

Providing director fees, the resolution’s explanation says, “does not alter the governing documents of the Episcopal Church or the scope and responsibilities of the position.”

Rowe officially proposed the resolution, and Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Tom Breidenthal and Diocese of Western New York Bishop Bill Franklin are the endorsers.

The question of a salary for the now-unpaid position of House of Deputies president prompted a rare conference committee between bishops and deputies in the waning hours of the last convention. The 2015 meeting of convention eventually agreed to postpone making a decision, instead calling for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint a task force to study the issue.

The Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation concluded in its report to convention that the work of the House of Deputies president amounts to a full-time job. Its Resolution A028 calls for a salary but does not set an amount.

The task force asked Executive Council to include a proposed salary in the draft 2019-2021 budget, which it gave to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) in January. The task force did not suggest an amount, but it included $900,000 for a full-time salary and benefits for the three years in the draft budget (line 557 here).

Diane Pollard, who chaired the task force, told Episcopal News Service that she appreciates the effort at a compromise solution and supports Rowe’s resolution.

“We can do no less than to come together around this issue and move it forward in a definitive way in which it can be effective,” she said. “If [Rowe’s] resolution will do that, fine. If they want to take [the task force’s] resolution and do it, that’s fine, too.”

Pollard said the issue of compensation is both a justice issue for any potential holder of the office and an issue of widening the pool of those potential candidates. “You either have to be wealthy or old, because you have to have income,” she said. “You give up a lot.”

She added that, despite the tendency to personalize the issue, “this is not about getting a salary for an incumbent.”

In addition to chairing the House of Deputies during convention, the president also is canonically required to serve as vice chair of Executive Council and vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, or DFMS, the nonprofit corporate entity through which the Episcopal Church owns property and does business. He or she has a wide swath of appointment powers. The president also travels around the church, speaking at conferences and other gatherings, meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians.

The position, which is filled by election during each meeting of convention, has a travel budget and a paid assistant. Each president is limited to three consecutive terms.

The president’s role has been changing since 1964 when the convention gave the position a three-year term instead of simply being elected to preside during convention. Three years later, it made the president the vice chair of Executive Council and thus a vice president of the DFMS, and defined the president’s authority in making appointments. Rowe’s resolution notes that expansion of the duties of the office has paralleled an expansion of the presiding bishop’s role.

The deputies who served on the task force have issued questions and answers about the issue of compensating the president of the House of Deputies.

Meanwhile, Province IV of the church proposes a different approach to the salary issue. Its Resolution C042 would have Executive Council set what it calls per diem compensation for the president when she or he is at council meetings, consults with the presiding bishop in making appointments required by canon, and is doing official work related to General Convention. Calling it a way to address the “short-term fairness issue of compensating the president,” the resolution also proposes that a special task force “clarify and enumerate the comprehensive role” of the president.

The issue of compensating that officeholder has been discussed for decades. General Convention considered the salary issue in 1997, 2000 and 2015. Each time, Rowe said, the deputies were clear that they wanted to see their president compensated.

Supporters of the change say making the office a paid job would broaden the pool of people able to consider running for election. No House of Deputies president has held regular paid employment since the election in 1985 of the Very Rev. David Collins, who retired early at age 62 from his position as dean of the cathedral in Atlanta in order to adequately carry out his presidential duties, according to the report.

The task force suggested that only people who are older and/or have what it called favorable “personal economic circumstances” can realistically hold the office. Thus, presidents are not always chosen based solely on gifts and skills, the members said.

“The task force came to the conclusion that providing a salary for the president of the House of Deputies is not only a good thing, but also essential for the growth of the Episcopal Church,” the task force said. “Moreover, it is demanded by good stewardship of the human resources entrusted to us in those who would devote their full-time service to the Episcopal Church.”

Others disagree, some saying they fear “mission creep” in the form of an expansion of the president’s duties and authority.

Some cite Resolution A099 proposed to this convention that would allow the president to call a meeting of the House of Deputies at times other than the triennial gathering of convention.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.


Comments (13)

  1. Tom Downs says:

    “Some cite Resolution A099 proposed to this convention that would allow the president to call a meeting of the House of Deputies at times other than the triennial gathering of convention”. Not sure what would be needed, but then I not all together sure why the House of Bishops needs to meet twice a year either.

  2. Father Charlie Grover says:

    I had not realized our expectations of the position had grown to the point an incumbent could no longer work full-time in another position. This has become an executive position beyond what an ordinary volunteer can do. Presiding Bishop’s were at first diocesan bishops and the needs, desires, etc., of the position grew. That has obviously taken place with the President of the House of Deputies. Compensation is just, as well as making the position fully open.

  3. Jim Simons says:

    The last President of the House of Deputies to also have a full time job was John Coburn in 1976. This needs to happen.

  4. Bruce Garner says:

    Few Deputies can put themselves forward for service as President because of the time demands on the position now. Candidates have to be wealthy, self-employed or in a position that lets them have lots of free time from work. They do get travel and per diem expenses but that hardly covers day to day living expenses.

    The President of the House of Deputies is the only officer of the DFMS that is not paid a salary. That alone should justify the compensation. No this isn’t about the incumbent. But it is time that the bishops of our church ended the distinctions they have created between the two houses and their presiding officers. The Presiding Bishop is the Presiding Bishop all the time. The President of the House of Deputies is President of the House of Deputies all the time as well, not just when General Convention is in session.

    Let’s be fair and quit playing silly games.

  5. Technically, the Constitution and Canons don’t specify that the PHOD must “travel around the church, speaking at conferences and other gatherings, meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians,” so none of that would be compensated. The question really needs to be asked: What sort of administrative structure do we want (and can we afford) to enable TEC to do the work to which we feel God has called us?” Until that question is answered, just dealing with salary makes no sense.

  6. Lisa Fox says:

    Tom Sramek asks a good question. What canonical duties are actually required of the PHoD? I think they are few. And I believe the PHoD should be compensated for that work.
    But are we allowing “mission creep” in what is expected of the PHoD?
    Much as I treasure the work of the HoD, I am mindful that we are an *Episcopal* Church. We elect our Bishops and consent to their governance.

  7. Julie Helgass says:

    Hmmm! $900,000 for a church that is declining in membership. Wow, wish I had that job. How about a merit based system. The more pledging members you bring in the greater your salary. When most parishes are struggling to pay the heating and lights bill you want us to pay the salary for someone who wants to be a co-bishop. Dream on!

  8. PJ Cabbiness says:

    If you cannot afford this position, do not seek or accept it. Many volunteer opportunities of great importance require applicants who are financially secure and independent. The current model clearly meets the needs of the church and should be left alone.

  9. John Hobart says:

    Given the direction the church has taken over the last 50 years, I think it is time that we started to dismantle some of the elaborate superstructure that was erected when the church was in it’s heyday rather than adding to it. Perhaps it is also time to go back to the PB being one of the diocesan bishops also. The General Convention should also be scaled back considerably. Ten thousand people for nine days in Austin seems excessive to me.

  10. Bill Louis says:

    Most Episcopalians don’t have a clue on how the Diocese’ are financed. The 2019 budget is published and can be accessed via the ENS website if you care to search it. You will find there is a proposal to increase the EDUSA staff salaries by 3% and healthcare benefits by 9% over the three year period. If you do the math most are paid over $100K. All while parishes are struggling to pay their bills. John is right! Time to downsize.

  11. This position absolutely should be paid. It is a full-time job, just as the people on the presiding bishop’s staff who support the operation of the General Convention are already paid. The PHOD works tirelessly– for instance, last summer, she was a vital presence and gave generously of her time and her encouragement to our youth as both a teacher and a worship leader at the Episcopal Youth Event. And that’s just one example.

    1. John Hobart says:

      She came to our church a couple of years ago and all she did was talk about politics. I was underwhelmed.

  12. John Schaffer says:

    I’d like to point out that all monies of the General Church come from the people sitting in the pews. It’s time for the Bishops to personally demonstrate their convictions and not expect the laity to make all the contributions. If they truly believe that the President should be compensated, then they should show it, to the entire church, by agreeing to cut their own pay that would, in total, equal the proposed compensation of the President.

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