By Kirk Petersen
For the fourth time in two decades, General Convention will include a faceoff between bishops and deputies about whether the church should pay a salary to the president of the House of Deputies (or PHoD), which has always been a volunteer position.
In 1997, 2000, and 2015, the House of Deputies passed resolutions calling for compensation for the president. Each time, the House of Bishops voted no, thereby killing the proposals.
Early indications are that the same thing may very well happen again.
There’s more at stake than just one person’s paycheck. The dispute touches on issues going to the heart of the Episcopal Church’s polity and its bicameral governing body.
The two houses look at the issue through very different filters. The deputies see it as a fairness issue, while the bishops believe it’s important to protect the authority of the episcopacy in the Episcopal Church.
The president has always had important duties under the Constitution & Canons of the church. By all accounts, the role has become increasingly broad and powerful in recent decades, and has grown into a full-time job, or something close to it.
At the 2015 General Convention, a conference committee hammered out a compromise between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. After rejecting the original resolution, the bishops agreed to create a joint task force to study the issue and report back in 2018.
In a 14-page report issued earlier this year, the Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation makes a thorough and compelling case that a salary should be provided. The group drafted a resolution calling for the Executive Council to determine and establish the salary.
TLC asked Diane B. Pollard, who chaired the 11-member task force created by the 2015 General Convention, if the members unanimously endorse the report. “Yes, when we sent it out for approval, no one came back and said that they did not like it,” she said. “It was unanimously approved, and as far as I know there is no minority report out there.”
Two of the three bishops on the task force see things differently. They plan to vote against the resolution in its current form and said the task force seemed to be moving toward a predetermined result.
“It was a fait accompli for which the bishops really had no voice,” said the Rt. Rev. William Michie Klusmeyer, Bishop of West Virginia and a task force member.
“My take on it was there was an expectation that we would all eventually agree that full-time and salary and everything was the right way to go. That seemed like the only choice,” said the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, Assistant Bishop of Montana. “It was never put to a vote.”
The third bishop on the task force said that while he did not agree with everything in the task force report, he supports the resolution. “I think the resolution calls us to a discussion we need to have. I think we need to define the position; I think it’s an essential position,” said the Rt. Rev. James Waggoner Jr., retired Bishop of Spokane. While the report describes the current duties of the president at great length, Waggoner thinks the church needs to reexamine the governance structure and decide what those duties should be.
He added, “I want the church to own that … for the convention to say, we own this, which means it’s necessary, and we also think it’s important that we fund it.”
But while Waggoner said he would vote in favor of the resolution, he will not cast a ballot. Retired bishops are entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, but Waggoner is in the first year of his retirement and does not plan to attend General Convention.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, who is not a member of the task force, has been outspoken in his opposition to providing a salary for the president. He believes most of the bishops agree with him.
“There may be some bishops who are in favor of it,” he said. But when the issue was discussed for most of two days at the latest House of Bishops meeting in March, “I did not hear one bishop speak favorably of the idea.”
In a blog post during the bishops’ meeting, Martins wrote: “We cannot create a two-headed monster, where the Presiding Bishop and the PHoD are, in effect, co-primates.”
The current president, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, declined to be interviewed for this article, as did Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Both were ex officio members of the task force, as they are for most major committees, but did not participate in deliberations.
Jennings, who is eligible to run for a third and final three-year term, previously declined to say whether she intends to do so. She may have to decide before the compensation issue is settled. The canons specify that the president “shall be elected not later than the seventh day of each regular meeting of the General Convention.” This year that is July 11. Legislative sessions continue for another two days.
The communications disconnect between the bishops and deputies on this issue is remarkable.
After three years of studying the case, the task force, which was led and dominated by deputies, either did not discover or did not acknowledge the widespread opposition of bishops — including two of the three bishops on the task force.
Or those bishops, both with many years of service in leadership roles, did not speak up loudly enough to ensure that the task force report would reflect their dissent.
Fully half of the task force report is devoted to enumerating the various duties and responsibilities of the position. The report notes that the canons require the president to wear multiple hats.
As President of the House of Deputies, the individual presides over the House of Deputies meetings at General Convention, a 10- to 12-day endurance test that occurs every three years.
As vice chair of the Executive Council, the individual is an active participant in meetings of the council, which meets three or four times a year, for three or four days at a time. Between General Conventions, the 40-member Executive Council essentially serves as the church’s board of directors.
As vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), the individual is empowered to sign contracts and checks on behalf of DFMS, and serves as an officer of the corporation that runs the business functions of the church. DFMS was organized under the laws of New York in 1821. Its formal name is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Rebecca Wilson, an outside consultant who serves as a spokeswoman for Jennings, said in an email: “President Jennings approaches being president of the House of Deputies as a full-time job. About 75% of her time is spent fulfilling the canonical duties that are outlined in the task force report.” She added, “The remaining 25% of her time is spent fulfilling requests from around the church” for speaking engagements and other matters.
The task force report does not recommend a specific salary, saying the amount should be set by the Executive Council using the methods it uses for setting compensation for other officers and senior staff.
Executive Council proposed a budget for the 2019-21 triennium that has a line item of $900,000 as a placeholder for total compensation of the president, pending approval by General Convention. Since benefits typically cost about a third of a person’s salary, that implies a maximum salary in the same range as the other four officers of DFMS.
According to the canonically required annual disclosure of compensation, the officers’ salaries are: Geoffrey Smith, chief operating officer, $204,000; the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, $213,282; N. Kurt Barnes, chief financial officer, $235,448; and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, $291,832. Jennings is the fifth officer, and her salary is listed as “volunteer.”
In all three of the president’s roles, the individual makes approximately 700 appointments to various committees and other bodies. Some of these appointments are made jointly with the presiding bishop.
The sheer volume of appointments is a key reason the task force feels the position should be compensated. “The President of the House of Deputies is the talent scout of the Episcopal Church,” said the Very Rev. George Werner, who was president from 2000 to 2006 and was not a member of the task force. “That’s a huge role that people don’t understand.”
Proponents say the president learns of talented people throughout the church in part through extensive travel, speaking, or otherwise representing the church at a broad variety of conventions, conferences, and meetings.
“I have to make a lot of appointments,” Klusmeyer said. “I don’t know if that ultimately takes a whole lot of time.” He said if the president’s role were stripped down to what is canonically required, he would consider supporting a salary appropriate to the narrowed role.
Even opponents of a salary recognize the demands of the position. “Gay works really hard, there’s no question about it,” Gallagher said. Referring to the three previous presidents, she added, “Bonnie [Anderson] worked really hard, and these are people I know pretty well. … George [Werner] worked really hard before that, and Pam [Chinnis] before that.”
According to the task force report, “no PHoD has held regular paid employment since the election in 1985 of the Very Rev. David Collins, who retired early at age sixty-two … from his position as Dean of the Cathedral in Atlanta in order to adequately carry out his duties as PHoD.”
In addition to the fairness issue, the task force notes that providing a salary would broaden the pool of qualified people who realistically could fill the job. The current arrangement ensures that the job will only be filled by a retiree or person of independent means.