Former Executive Council member announces candidacy for House of Deputies president

By David Paulsen
Posted May 20, 2024

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the latest proposed timeline of elections, in which the House of Deputies president would be elected June 25 and the vice president on June 27.

[Episcopal News Service] The House of Deputies presidential election is now a three-way race, after Zena Link, an educator and union organizer who previously served on Executive Council, announced May 19 that she will be a candidate for the house’s presiding officer.

“After five years of discernment and over 20 years of preparation, I am ready to announce my candidacy,” Link, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, said in a Facebook post. “My journey has been shaped by faith, meaningful work and a commitment to honoring life’s blessings and challenges. With the support of colleagues, I feel called to unify diverse perspectives within the church and act on our shared mission.”

Zena Link

Zena Link is a deputy from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Photo: Deborah Gardner Walker via link4unity.net

Link joins the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton in challenging incumbent House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris, who was first elected in 2022. Taber-Hamilton, the sitting House of Deputies vice president, announced last month that she would instead run for president when the 81st General Convention convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Link served with Ayala Harris from 2015-22 on Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. Since February 2023, Link has regularly attended council meetings to lead workshops with its current members on dismantling racism in the church’s governance structures. Link is a three-time deputy to General Convention who also serves on the board of the newly created Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice.

At each General Convention, all deputies are permitted to seek election as president and vice president after clearing a background check. Since 1964, when the House of Deputies first expanded the role of president beyond presiding at General Convention, the incumbent president has faced a contested election only once, in 2003. The incumbent that year was re-elected.

This year will mark the first time an incumbent president has sought re-election since the role became a paid position. In 2018, 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. The vice president remains an unpaid position.

A candidate forum with the presidential candidates is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 21 in Louisville.

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.

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.

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.

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. The Rev. Steve Pankey of the Diocese of Kentucky and the Rev. Charles Graves IV of the Diocese of Texas announced earlier this month they are running for House of Deputies vice president, and other candidates could come forward between now and the elections.

Ayala Harris affirmed “our church’s commitment to democratic principles and process” in a statement released last month after news first broke that she would face a contested election.

“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,” Ayala Harris said. “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.”

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.

The latest timeline of elections would include a presidential election on June 25 and a vice presidential election on June 27, each election a day earlier than the tentative timeline that was announced earlier this year. 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.

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