Two priests announce candidacies for House of Deputies vice president

By David Paulsen
Posted May 8, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Two deputies have declared candidacies for House of Deputies vice president after the incumbent vice president said she is running for president instead. Both elections will take place during the upcoming 81st General Convention.

The Rev. Steve Pankey of the Diocese of Kentucky and the Rev. Charles Graves IV of the Diocese of Texas both announced this week they are running for House of Deputies vice president. The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the incumbent vice president, announced last month that she would challenge incumbent President Julia Ayala Harris when the General Convention convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Taber-Hamilton told Episcopal News Service she does not intend to run for vice president if she loses the presidential election, which would guarantee a shift in house leadership regardless of the election outcomes.

Pankey announced his candidacy in a May 6 Facebook post. As vice president, “my priority will be to lift up the diverse ministries of our deputies as well as the extraordinary leadership of President Ayala Harris,” Pankey said. “By truly hearing one another and finding common ground, we can embody the reign of God that Jesus inaugurated in his life, death, and resurrection.”

Graves launched his candidacy with a website. “I have never been more profoundly optimistic about the future of this church,” he said. “If we believe anything as Christians, it’s in the sacred joy of death and Resurrection. When the forecasts appear grim, God calls each of us to ‘prophecy to the bones’ like Ezekiel, as the Holy Spirit breathes new life into this church and the world.”

Ayala Harris was first elected president of the House of Deputies in July 2022 at the 80th General Convention, held in Baltimore, Maryland. Taber-Hamilton was elected vice president a day later.

Pankey and Graves both previously served with Ayala Harris on Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention, and they now are members of her Council of Advice.

Pankey is rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He was an Executive Council member from 2020 to 2022 and currently serves on the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons. He is a four-time deputy to General Convention, and this year, he chairs the deputies’ Rules of Order Committee.

Graves is the Episcopal campus missioner at the University of Houston. He has served since 2019 on Executive Council. He will be a first-time deputy from the Diocese of Texas at the 81st General Convention and is a member of the deputies’ Accessibility & Inclusion Committee. He also is a member of the Deputies of Color, the Young Adult Caucus and the LGBTQ+ Caucus.

Presidents and vice presidents are permitted by Episcopal Church Canons to hold office for no more than three consecutive terms. The terms typically span three years between meetings of General Convention. It is unusual though not unprecedented for House of Deputies incumbents to face challenges as they seek re-elections.

An incumbent president or vice president has faced a challenger three times since 1970, according to research conducted and shared with ENS by Sally Johnson, who served until 2022 as chancellor to the former House of Deputies president, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings.

In 1970, first-term Vice President Charles Crump faced multiple challengers and lost the election to Charles Willie. Three years later, two others ran against Willie but failed to unseat him as vice president.

The one time during that period that a sitting House of Deputies president faced a challenger was in 2003, when Louis Crew ran against the Very Rev. George Werner, who was completing his first term as president. Werner won re-election, but three years later he was forced to step down after two terms because his own Diocese of Pittsburgh did not re-elect him as a deputy to General Convention.

General Convention, the church’s primary governing body, divides its authority between the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. The presiding bishop and House of Deputies president serve as the church’s two presiding officers, each with distinct authority and responsibilities.

The 81st General Convention also will elect and confirm a new presiding bishop. Five bishops will stand for election to succeed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who is completing the ninth and final year of his term.

Deputies interested in running for president or vice president were required to apply through the General Convention Office by the April 24 deadline, allowing time to conduct background checks. Candidates for president are free to announce their intentions anytime between now and June 24, the second legislative day of General Convention. Candidates for vice president must announce by June 27.

The presidential election is scheduled for June 26, and the vice presidential election will be held June 28. Because the two offices must be held by members from different orders, clergy and lay, the final slate for vice president won’t be known until after a president is elected.

The president’s role has evolved since 1964, when the convention gave the position a three-year term. Previously the president was elected to preside over the House of Deputies at convention. It also was an unpaid position until 2018, when General Convention adopted a plan to pay the president as a contractor “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”  The president’s pay in 2024 is $236,757, with no other employee benefits.

In addition to chairing the House of Deputies during convention, the president 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 is responsible for appointing hundreds of people to interim bodies and legislative committees. The president also travels throughout the church, speaking at conferences, representing the church at official functions and other gatherings and meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians.

The House of Deputies vice president, which remains an unpaid volunteer position, is granted seat and voice on Executive Council but has far fewer canonical responsibilities than the president.

– 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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