By Kirk Petersen
On the afternoon of Thursday, July 14, 2022, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings is scheduled to bang the gavel at General Convention for the final time as president of the House of Deputies. She’ll then hand the gavel to a person who, in that moment, will become the next PHoD — having been elected to the influential role three days earlier.
That person will already have passed a background check that will include criminal records, sexual-offender registries, professional licenses, and violations of securities or banking laws. The background check is new. “When I ran for president, the nursery attendant at my husband’s parish was vetted more carefully than I was,” Jennings told TLC.
The time required for a background check drove the timing of the nomination process, which was just announced by the House of Deputies. Applications to run for president or vice president of the HoD are due no later than March 8, 2022.
Jennings, 70, has served three terms as PHoD and is not eligible for re-election. Her tenure will stretch for 10 years because the pandemic forced postponement of the triennial General Convention scheduled for 2021.
In recent decades, General Conventions have steadily added responsibilities to the job of PHoD — which until 2018 was an uncompensated position. That year, after three unsuccessful attempts over two decades, the General Convention voted to provide “director and officer fees” to compensate the president for canonically required duties.
Those duties are extensive, as detailed in a 14-page report in 2018 from the Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation — a body appointed in 2015 to recommend whether to provide compensation.
- 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 normally 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.
Over the course of a triennium , the PHoD will make about 700 appointments to committees, task forces, and offices. The leader of the House of Deputies spends a lot of time “recruiting talent,” Jennings said. “There’s always people who love to participate in church governance, right? And thank God for them. But there are a lot of people waiting to be invited, who might not normally be at the table,” she said.
The lack of compensation has meant that as a practical matter, a PHoD needed to either be retired or of independent means. The task force noted that no president had held regular paid employment since 1985. Still, the House of Bishops shot down compensation resolutions passed by the deputies at the General Conventions in 1997, 2000, and 2015. Bishops contended that the job had become too powerful, and that paying a salary would imply that the PHoD was essentially a “co-primate” with the Presiding Bishop.
The deputies carried the day in 2018 only after a compromise was reached. Instead of a salary, the PHoD would be an independent contractor, compensated for required duties but not for speaking engagements or other activities he or she chooses to pursue.
Determining the amount of compensation was left to the Executive Council, which at its next meeting settled on $210,000 annually. That’s a substantial sum, but it left the PHoD as the lowest-compensated office among the top seven officers of the Episcopal Church, even though the PHoD is outranked only by the Presiding Bishop. As required by canon, the compensation of the top officers is published every year. As of January 2021, the PHoD compensation is set at $216,666, and does not include the employee benefits package provided to the other officers. As a rule of thumb, benefits for many jobs are valued at about a third of salary.
(Interestingly, the Presiding Bishop is no longer the highest-paid employee of the church. The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry’s salary currently is $309,605, while Chief Legal Officer Kent K. Anker, who was appointed last year, makes $325,000.)
The canons specify that the president and vice president of the House of Deputies must be from different orders — one lay, one clergy. After the new president is elected by General Convention on July 11, deputies of the other order who have passed background checks will declare whether they want to run for vice president, and the election will be held before adjournment.
“I’ve had a great vice president in Byron Rushing,” Jennings said, adding that he is the senior member of the House of Deputies. The 2022 General Convention will be his 16th, stretching over nearly half a century. For 36 of those years, Rushing was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, before losing a bid for re-election in 2018.
The vice president is uncompensated, and has the primary role of being one heartbeat away from the presidency. “He jokes with me that when he gets up in the morning, he says a prayer for my health,” Jennings said, adding that Rushing has served in multiple appointed roles as vice president and has been a valued and trusted advisor. The vice president also has seat and voice, but not vote, at Executive Council meetings. Rushing, 79, has served three terms and is not eligible for re-election.
Jennings said a lot of people think that the person elected PHoD has to alternate between lay and clergy. There’s no canonical requirement for that — but it’s worked out that way for the last seven decades. Jennings said alternating orders has been the tradition since 1952.
“I’m really interested to see who ends up running, because what I always hoped by working for compensation for the president was that any deputy of any age or financial background could run for president,” Jennings said. Now, “younger deputies will be in a position to offer themselves for consideration.”