House of Deputies vice president announces intention to run for president against incumbent

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 22, 2024

The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, who serves as vice president of the House of Deputies, announced on April 21 that she is running for president. Photo: Rachel Taber-Hamilton/via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, vice president of the House of Deputies, announced over the weekend that she intends to challenge House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris for the office of president, setting up a contested president election seemingly without precedent in recent church history.

Taber-Hamilton, a priest in the Diocese of Olympia, did not refer to Ayala Harris by name in her announcement. Instead, she wrote in general terms that she is running for president because of “unaddressed internal dynamics that in my professional opinion are contributing to an unhealthy corporate culture, jeopardizing our ability for forming the collaborative relationships necessary for effectively moving forward in the crucial work of The General Convention.”

The election will be held in Louisville, Kentucky, when the 81st General Convention convenes June 23-28. At each General Convention, all deputies are permitted to seek election as president, though incumbent presidents do not typically face challengers.

Ayala Harris, as one of the church’s two presiding officers, was first elected president of the House of Deputies in July 2022 at the 80th General Convention, held in Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike the presiding bishop, who is elected to head the House of Bishops for a nine-year term, the House of Deputies president is elected to a term that spans from one General Convention to the next – typically three years – and can be re-elected for two additional terms.

Ayala Harris’ predecessor, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, was first elected president in 2012 and then re-elected without opposition in 2015 and 2018. In 2022, Ayala Harris was elected on the third ballot from a slate of five candidates for president.

“Among the many great gifts of our polity is the enduring strength of our church’s commitment to democratic principles and processes. These sacred values are the bedrock upon which our governance operates, guiding us as we navigate the challenges and opportunities of our time,” Ayala Harris told Episcopal News Service when asked to respond. “This summer, our deputies will continue discerning where the Holy Spirit is calling the church through democratic elections, including that of the President of the House of Deputies. I’m so proud to be part of a church where we have the power to shape our own future and to inspire generations of church leaders to come with our governance rooted in democracy, faith, and our listening to the Holy Spirit.”

General Convention splits its authority between the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. The House of Deputies is made up of clergy and lay deputations from all 108 dioceses, as well as the Episcopal Church in Navajoland and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

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. The House of Deputies president 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.

Since Ayala Harris’ historic election, tensions have simmered within church leadership, most publicly in February 2023, when Ayala Harris and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry appointed a former Executive Council member, Jane Cisluycis, as acting chief operating officer. Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention, must vote to give consent to such appointments.

Some members of Executive Council complained that the presiding officers had not conducted a thorough search process for filling the chief operating officer position, which in the past has blended the role of administrative head for the organization and chief of staff for the presiding bishop. They also raised concerns that people of color were not given enough consideration for the role. Cisluycis’ appointment was approved by a 26-13 vote. 

At the time of the vote, Taber-Hamilton posted an extended commentary on her Facebook page, while again refraining from criticizing any church leader by name. “I believe that the final vote reflects the harm done to relationships between the executive officers and members of council,” she wrote. “I am concerned that much community/relational currency was expended by leadership to achieve this result, Beloved Community currency that will take some intentional time to replenish in our organizational life.”

In a separate Facebook post the following month, Taber-Hamilton lamented that “confronting the ‘soft’ racism of the Episcopal Church institution is really, really exhausting on a day-to-day effort.”

And on May 2, 2023, Taber-Hamilton took to Facebook again to say she was “deeply concerned” that Curry and Ayala Harris had not yet named members to a fact-finding commission, as mandated by the 80th General Convention, to research the church’s historic complicity in the federal Indigenous boarding schools system. “I have and am willing to do whatever I am called to do by the leadership and General Convention of the Episcopal Church, but neither I nor the good people committed to this work can move forward without the partnership and appointments necessary to do it.”

In late May 2023, Ayala Harris announced in a House of Deputies newsletter that she and Curry had named members to the commission, including Taber-Hamilton. The commission met in person for the first time in October and again in January.

Taber-Hamilton, who is Shackan First Nation, was elected House of Deputies vice president in 2022 at the same General Convention where Ayala Harris was elected. Taber-Hamilton was the only candidate for vice president. She is the first ordained woman, and only the third woman, to serve in this capacity since the role of deputies’ vice president was created in 1964.

“I’m looking forward with such joy and such humble gratitude to being able to be in a position to support the work of the House of Deputies, to care for all of you, and assure that every voice may be brought to bear,” she said in remarks to deputies after her election.

When Episcopal News Service contacted Taber-Hamilton on April 22 asking her to elaborate on her criticisms of the church’s internal leadership dynamics, she said she preferred to cite them only “in a very generalized way, not with specific examples that heighten the risk to individuals.”

Taber-Hamilton also was one of three nominees on the recent slate for bishop of the Diocese of Rochester. The upstate New York diocese elected Very Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer as its next bishop on Feb. 24.

– 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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