Presiding officers detail plan, timeline for naming Michael Barlowe’s successor as executive officer of General Convention

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 12, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s two presiding officers on April 12 publicly released a letter addressed to Executive Council that outlines their plan for appointing a new General Convention executive officer to succeed the Rev. Michael Barlowe, who plans to retire later this year.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris, in their letter, cited Episcopal Church Canon I.1.12a, which grants them in their leadership roles the authority to jointly appoint the executive officer, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council. Curry and Ayala Harris also serve, respectively, as chair and vice-chair of Executive Council.

“We have developed a timeline that will allow our body to study the position, discern the needs of our church, and ensure an opportunity for the presiding bishop-elect to provide ample input,” Curry and Ayala Harris said. “Upon Secretary Barlowe’s retirement, leadership of the General Convention Office will operate via the cabinet approach … until a new executive officer is appointed.”

Barlowe is scheduled to retire around Labor Day in September after serving as executive officer and secretary of the 81st General Convention, which convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky. Barlowe announced in January his plans to retire after 11 years as executive officer and more than 40 years as an Episcopal priest.

At Executive Council’s last meeting, held in late January in Louisville, council member Annette Buchanan of the Diocese of New Jersey asked for information on succession planning for the executive officer. At the time, Ayala Harris responded that she, Curry and their chancellors were still reviewing the canons and would report back to Executive Council with a clear answer.

In their April 12 letter, Curry and Ayala Harris announced that this spring they will develop an advisory committee that will include members of Executive Council, the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. From July to September, that advisory committee will work with the presiding officers to “review the job description of the executive officer, study the current needs of the church, make recommendations to them for any necessary changes, and assist them in their discernment with regard to candidates for the position.”

The executive officer leads the General Convention Office, the church’s central office responsible for the administration of church governance. The General Convention Office’s duties include negotiating contracts for venues and accommodations at each General Convention, coordinating the meetings of all the church’s interim governing bodies, receiving and tallying parochial report data from dioceses and congregations, facilitating the consent process for bishop elections, and ensuring the church has the technology needed to achieve all those goals.

After conducting their review of the position, the presiding officers plan to publish a job description and begin recruiting candidates for the role from October 2024 to January 2025. During that time, Curry also will hand off his role in the recruitment process to a newly elected successor, who will become the church’s 28th presiding bishop on Nov. 1. (The presiding bishop election is one of the top agenda items at the 81st General Convention this June.)

Through the beginning of 2025, the presiding officers will interview qualified candidates while providing updates to Executive Council, the letter says. Appointment of the new executive officer is scheduled for February 2025, at which time the presiding officers will seek consent from Executive Council, presumably in a vote at the governing body’s in-person meeting scheduled for that month.

“We are committed to a transparent and intentional process, which is essential to identifying the best candidate to serve as our next executive officer,” Curry and Ayala Harris said. “We ask for your continued prayers and support as we undertake this important work together.”

This will be the second major churchwide leadership appointment that current members of Executive Council are asked to endorse. Curry and Ayala Harris previously chose Jane Cisluycis to serve as the church’s chief operating officer, but that process drew vocal objections from some members of Executive Council that the search was not broad enough, didn’t involve the council and failed to generate a racially diverse pool of candidates.

Curry and Ayala Harris stood by their appointment of Cisluysis while adjusting her title to acting chief operating officer. Executive Council approved the appointment in February 2023, with a third of the members voting against giving their consent.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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