GC81 Daily Digest, June 27: George Werner remembered, Philadelphia 11 honored, Gay Jennings welcomed

Posted Jun 27, 2024

[Episcopal News Service — Louisville, Kentucky] The 81st General Convention continues to meet at the Kentucky International Convention Center. You can find full, regularly updated ENS coverage here. The ENS primer, or everything you need to follow the 81st General Convention, is here.

A lot can happen on any given day at General Convention. News that doesn’t make it into a full story gets filed into our daily digest.

House of Deputies notes 2023 death of its former president during June 27 worship

George Werner

George Werner

A tribute to the late Very Rev. George Werner, who served as the 31st president of the House of Deputies, was offered during Morning Prayer in the House of Deputies on June 27. Werner, who also had served nine years as vice president of the house, died on Feb. 6, 2023. He was 85.

Diocese of Pittsburgh deputy Jon Delano spoke about his friend, recalling Werner’s commitment to the words of the Baptismal Covenant, “to strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being.”

He added that Werner’s commitment to civil rights, women in ordained ministry and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people cost him a third term as president. He was at odds with then-Bishop Robert Duncan, Delano said. Duncan later took half the diocese’s parishes out of The Episcopal Church.

After serving as a deputy for more than 20 years, Werner wasn’t elected to Pittsburgh’s deputation for the 75th General Convention in 2006, which made him ineligible to stand for re-election as president. He took this in stride, Delano said, and spent his energy helping to strengthen and rebuild the diocese.

Werner, he said, was both a leader and a servant who set an example for all those who followed him as a deputy.

Deputies also adopted by acclamation Resolution A180, which offers thanks for Werner’s many decades of faithful service to The Episcopal Church and extends condolences to his family.

–Melodie Woerman

House of Deputies adopts resolution honoring The Episcopal Church’s first women priests

The first 11 women who bucked tradition and sought priestly ordination in The Episcopal Church were honored by House of Deputies Resolution A188, which was adopted June 27.

Known as the Philadelphia 11, the women deacons were ordained as priests in a July 29, 1974, service at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just shy of 50 years ago on July 29, 1974.

The House of Bishops afterward declared their ordinations “irregular,” because General Convention hadn’t yet acted to allow women to be ordained as priests or bishops. That took place two years later, when General Convention changed the church’s canons to bar discrimination in the ordination process on the grounds of gender. (The church began ordaining women as deaconess in 1889 and as deacons in 1970.)

Diocese of Washington deputy the Rev. Yoimel Gonzalez Hernandez proposed an amendment that added a special commemoration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first Eucharist celebrated by a woman priest, the Rev. Allison Cheek, on Nov. 10, 1974, at St. Stephen’s and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., where Gonzalez Hernandez now serves as rector.

Both the amendment and the resolution were adopted by acclamation.

After the vote, Newark deputy the Rev. Cynthia Black noted that when General Convention met in 1973 in Louisville, Kentucky – the site of this year’s 81st convention – the ordination of women was voted down. “Fifty-one years ago,” she said. “How far we’ve come.”

She then encouraged deputies to remember the names of women who have served as deacons, priests and bishops since then, and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris invited the house to applaud.

A feature-length documentary “The Philadelphia Eleven, marking the anniversary was released earlier this year. A screening of it was offered by the Episcopal Church Women during their Triennial meeting that runs concurrently with General Convention.

–Melodie Woerman

Former House of Deputies president the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings (at right) joins Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe (left) and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during her visit to General Convention on June 27. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Former deputies’ President Gay Jennings visits General Convention

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who was president of the House of Deputies from 2012 to 2022, was greeted by members of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies when she visited General Convention on June 27.

Jennings was the first ordained woman to hold the position of House of Deputies president.

In the afternoon she appeared in the visitor gallery at the back of the House of Bishops’ convention hall. Before breaking for a recess, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry acknowledged the bishops’ surprise visitor, and the bishops stood to shower Jennings with applause. During the break, bishops took turns greeting Jennings with handshakes and hugs, and Curry posed for photos with Jennings and Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe.

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris then teased the house with a “surprise guest” before bringing Jennings onto the president’s platform, to a standing ovation. Ayala Harris then presented her with the President’s Service Award, noting Jennings’ “unwavering commitment to The Episcopal Church and its governance through times of change and challenge.”

Ayala Harris praised Jennings for ever-present grace, sense of humor and support for young leaders – including her.

—Melodie Woerman