General Convention approves compensation for deputies’ president

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 6, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The House of Bishops on July 6 agreed to a plan to pay the president of the House of Deputies for the work of the office.

The bishops approved Resolution B014 on a voice vote with some voting no. There is no dollar figure attached to the resolution, which would pay the House of Deputies president director’s and officer’s fees “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”

The resolution, which the House of Deputies overwhelmingly approved July 5, is a compromise move. It was the fourth time over two decades that deputies had attempted to earn compensation for their president and the first time bishops agreed.

Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe proposed B014 just before the start of convention as “a way forward,” he told his colleagues. Many bishops worried that paying the president of the House of Deputies could somehow change the polity of the church, especially in relation to the role of the presiding bishop. Rowe said he and a small group of bishops, assembled at the request of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, consulted experts in canon and secular law.

Rowe asked his colleague to “do your best to separate any objection you may have about the way that the current incumbent or any particular incumbent of the position has approached or is approaching the role or whether the job is too big; these are separate issues from the pay matter.”

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. 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 and 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 three-year terms.

The group of bishops shared its proposed resolution with current House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and her leadership team “as a matter of courtesy and consultation,” he said, adding that the bishops “engaged in significant diplomacy on this matter, and we have achieved results.”

Many deputies “had to swallow hard to make this happen,” but it is “going to set the stage for a different kind of relationship” between the two houses.

Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Tom Breidenthal agreed with Rowe. He said he and Diocese of Western New York Bishop Bill Franklin were happy to give the required endorsement of B014. They felt they were doing “our part to improve the relationship of trust that is so important to the proper functioning of these two houses.”

Any risk that his colleagues might feel about “becoming vulnerable to an erosion of our own particular ministry and role as bishops is worth taking because it is a signal to the other house that we are walking alongside them and will give them a chance to trust us more and, therefore, help us to know better what they see us as when they look upon us as their bishops,” he said.

Some bishops worried about the lack of a specific dollar amount in the resolution. The Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation, called for by the 78th General Convention, concluded in its report to this meeting of 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 council included $900,000 for a full-time salary and benefits for the three years in the draft budget (line 557 here).

Bishop Steven Miller of Milwaukee cited that amount and asked for a “clear accounting” once Executive Council sets the fees, as required in the resolution. He said the $900,000 “could be used for mission, it could be used for reconciliation.”

Voting yes on the resolution without an amount, Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris said, feels like “we are writing a blank check.”

Rowe said both bishops and deputies vote all the time on resolutions that ask for specified or unspecified amounts of money. It is then up to PB&F to sort out all the requests. Maine Bishop Stephen Lane, PB&F vice chair, said council put the amount into its draft budget “not knowing how this General Convention would move” and would revisit that amount when convention’s wishes were clear.

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