House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris reelected on first ballot

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 25, 2024

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris addresses the House of Deputies on June 25 after her election to a second term as president. Photo: Scott Gunn

[Episcopal News Service — Louisville, Kentucky] House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris was re-elected June 25 at the 81st General Convention, winning decisively on the first ballot and fending off challenges from the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the deputies’ vice president, and Zena Link, a former Executive Council member.

The victory sends Ayala Harris to a second term — and her first three-year term, after she was first elected in 2022 to a two-year term at the pandemic-delayed 80th General Convention.

“I am humbled and thank you for your confidence in me and my leadership,” Ayala Harris said after the election results were announced in the deputies’ convention hall at the Kentucky International Convention Center. She thanked Taber-Hamilton and Link for discerning their calls to run for the office.

Ayala Harris concluded her brief remarks by saying, “Now, church geeks, let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”

Ayala Harris, of the Diocese of Oklahoma, received 521 votes out of the 826 votes cast by the 829 deputies who were certified to be on the floor for the election. Link, of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, placed second with 241 votes and Taber-Hamilton a distant third with 64. An election on that ballot required 414 votes. Taber-Hamilton, a priest from the Diocese of Olympia, has said she will not run for re-election as vice president, and the election of her successor is scheduled for June 27.

The election was unusual for featuring an incumbent House of Deputies president facing a challenge. A sitting president has only faced a challenger once in modern history, in 2003, and like Ayala Harris, the incumbent that year prevailed.

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.

The House of Bishops will hold its own leadership election, at nearby Christ Church Cathedral on June 26, when it will vote for the 28th presiding bishop in a closed session and then ask the House of Deputies to confirm the result.

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris took questions during a June 25 press conference following her reelection to a second term. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

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 the 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.

This week, at the 81st 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.

Three deputies have declared candidacies for vice president: the Rev. Charles Graves IV of the Diocese of Texas, the Rev. Ruth Meyers of the Diocese of California and the Rev. Steve Pankey of the Diocese of Kentucky. A forum with the candidates is scheduled for 7 a.m. June 27. The election is scheduled to take place later that day. Episcopal Church Canons require that the two House of Deputies positions be held by leaders from different orders, clergy and lay.

Ayala Harris holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity International University and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. She is a doctoral student in leadership development at the University of Oklahoma and a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Her professional background includes working in social service organizations serving women, children, and people with disabilities and international aid work in Kenya and South Sudan from 2005 to 2008.

Ayala Harris, 43, had faced some criticism, direct and implied, from her two challengers on various aspects of her leadership style over the past two years, including in the areas of communication and collaboration. Taber-Hamilton also aired her grievances against Ayala Harris more specifically on the day before the election.

In the end, however, those arguments for a change of leadership failed to sway a majority in the House of Deputies, which erupted into applause when Ayala Harris’ victory was announced.

Given the margin, the election still revealed that more than 300 deputies were in favor of new leadership in the house. Ayala Harris said later at a news conference that she took that feedback to heart.

She acknowledged that communications had been “a little rough” during her first term and that that may underlie some of the other concerns raised by Taber-Hamilton and Link. Improving communications would be one goal of her second term: “I hear their concerns, and I will adjust accordingly,” she said.

Some other criticisms that certain individuals and groups have aimed at Ayala Harris have left her “heartbroken,” she said, “heartbroken for our leadership and heartbroken for our house.”  She said she would pursue healing, mediation and reconciliation in some form in her next term.

Ayala Harris also expressed optimism about the next three years for The Episcopal Church. “It’s an exciting time in the church and to continue in this role,” she said, again expressing gratitude to her challengers, saying the decision to run for a public office isn’t easy.

– 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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