Deputies’ vice president accuses president of leadership failures; president calls it ‘misrepresentation’

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 24, 2024
Taber-Hamilton and Ayala Harris

The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, left, and Julia Ayala Harris participate in a candidate forum June 21 for the House of Deputies June 25 presidential election. Photos: Randall Gornowich

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] On the eve of the House of Deputies’ presidential election, the incumbent vice president, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, published a blog post June 24 laying out specific allegations she previously had only alluded to against incumbent President Julia Ayala Harris.

Taber-Hamilton’s blog post accuses Ayala Harris of using her office to “manipulate, intimidate, silence, mistreat and marginalize people” – including by excluding Taber-Hamilton from leadership roles – and of treating Taber-Hamilton and certain other church leaders as potential threats rather than as collaborative partners.

“Over the past two years, the president has journeyed to this General Convention on a veritable corduroy road of people that she has thrown under the bus,” Taber-Hamilton said.

Ayala Harris and Taber-Hamilton were both elected to their current positions for the first time at the 80th General Convention in 2022. They and Zena Link, a former Executive Council member, now are the three declared candidates for president in the House of Deputies election set for June 25. Taber-Hamilton has said she does not intend to run again for vice president.

Ayala Harris, in response to an Episcopal News Service request for comment on Taber-Hamilton’s post, said she was “disheartened” by it and called Taber-Hamilton’s criticism “a misrepresentation of my presidency” and “in direct conflict with my values and approach as a leader.”

“Throughout my presidency I have strove to include a diverse set of leaders in my appointments that reflect the broad diversity of our church,” Ayala Harris said. “I believe in our house’s ability to discern their choice for president, focused on skills, experience and vision, not on personal accusations. I continue to pray for our house and all candidates running for elections throughout our convention.”

Taber-Hamilton, a priest in the Diocese of Olympia, previously had alluded to tensions in churchwide leadership, without openly criticizing Ayala Harris, when she announced in April that she would run against Ayala Harris for president. Now, Taber-Hamilton’s latest blog post more fully airs her grievances from the past two years.

“Being elected president is not what I am seeking. The salary that press articles keep noting again and again is not what I am seeking,” Taber-Hamilton wrote. “I am seeking a healthy church with healthy leaders … . Please give that to me and to us all. We deserve better.”

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.

The vice president chairs House of Deputies sessions in the absence of the president but has far fewer canonical duties and responsibilities than the president. The vice president has a seat but no vote on Executive Council and also has a seat on the Joint Committee on Planning and Arrangements.

Planning and Arrangements recommends to General Convention future meeting sites, helps choose the actual locations, sets the meeting dates and leads the planning of General Convention meetings (Canon I.1.13). One of Taber-Hamilton’s complaints was that she was excluded from most of the planning of the 81st General Convention.

This General Convention is the first time an incumbent president has sought re-election since the role became a paid position, under a plan adopted in 2018 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 base pay in 2024 is $236,756, plus reimbursement for health, retirement and other benefits. The vice president remains an unpaid position.

Taber-Hamilton announced her candidacy for president in an April 21 blog post, writing then in general terms that she was running 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.”

Link, a deputy and lay leader from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, announced her candidacy on May 19, saying that “with the support of colleagues, I feel called to unify diverse perspectives within the church and act on our shared mission.”

Ayala Harris, a deputy and lay leader from the Diocese of Oklahoma, was joined by Taber-Hamilton and Link on June 8 for an online forum hosted by the Deputies of Color and Virginia Theological Seminary. Taber-Hamilton and Link mostly avoided openly criticizing Ayala Harris at that time, while alluding to a need for improved churchwide leadership.

Effective collaboration “hasn’t happened” consistently in the past two years, Link said in response to a question about dealing with conflict. She also alluded to past “mishaps” without elaborating.

The Deputies of Color released a statement June 23 endorsing Link, following a second candidate forum held in Louisville before the June 23-28 legislative sessions began.  At that event, Taber-Hamilton and Link were more forceful in arguing for new leadership while still not directly criticizing Ayala Harris’ two years as president.

Link, when invited to comment for this story, noted that after her Executive Council term was over in 2022, its leadership called her back as a consultant in 2023 “to address certain challenges and strained relationships between the leadership and various members of the council that impacted organizational culture.” She referred ENS to past reporting on leadership tensions but did not specify further.

During the June 21 forum, Link described what she saw as a strained relationship between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, which can be repaired with “a little more communication, transparency, accountability and competency.” Taber-Hamilton advocated a greater sense of trust and mutuality between the two houses.

Ayala Harris, at one point in the forum, responded to suggestions that her transition to president had not gone smoothly, saying that she has grown into the role over less than two years.

“One of my colleagues pointed out something that’s a huge difference between the presiding bishop and the PHOD,” she said, using a common shorthand for president of the House of Deputies. “When the gavel goes down [at the end of General Convention], for PHOD, there is no transition committee, there is no orientation, there is no set anything – you’re just now PHOD.”

– 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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