By Kirk Petersen
Two priests and two lay people have met a key deadline to declare their candidacies for president of the House of Deputies (PHoD), the second-ranking officer in the corporate structure of the Episcopal Church. An additional priest has declared for vice president.
May 31 was the deadline for candidates to inform the General Convention Office of their intent to participate in online forums scheduled for June 4 and June 13. It’s possible that additional candidates could emerge, but any such candidates would need to have met a March deadline for confidentially registering their interest in running, and would need to have submitted to a background check. They also would not be able to participate in the only official candidate events in advance of the elections at the July General Convention.
In alphabetical order, the candidates for president are:
- The Rev. Devon Anderson (previously announced), Diocese of Minnesota;
- Julia Ayala Harris (previously announced), Diocese of Oklahoma;
- Ryan K. Kusumoto, Diocese of Hawaii;
- The Very Rev. Ward H. Simpson, Diocese of South Dakota.
The candidate for vice president is the Rev. Rachel K. Taber-Hamilton, Diocese of Olympia.
The current PHoD, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings of the Diocese of Ohio, has served since the 2012 General Convention, and is term-limited. Her job now pays more than $200,000 a year, but it was a volunteer position for most of her tenure. Beginning at the 2000 General Convention, the House of Bishops three times voted down resolutions to provide compensation for the demanding position, before agreeing on the fourth attempt in 2018.
The current VPHoD, Byron Rushing of the Diocese of Massachusetts, has also served since 2012 and is also term-limited. The position is uncompensated and largely advisory, but the person automatically ascends to the top job if the PHoD leaves office for any reason before the end of a term.
Each of the candidates submitted written responses to a series of questions about their background and qualifications, and these can be found on the House of Deputies website. Interested people also can register there to attend the candidate forums at 2 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, June 4, and 2 p.m. Eastern on Monday, June 13. The forums will be moderated by the Rev. Albert Cutié, a talk-show host and author.
Kusumoto is president and chief executive officer of Parents and Children Together, a social-services organization that employs 400 people, and works with people throughout Hawaii on issues including domestic violence, child abuse, LGBTQ advocacy, sex trafficking, education, health, and others. “Every day, people come to our organization possibly on their worst day,” he wrote. He has been a trustee of the Church Pension Fund for the past 10 years, and has been active in church matters at the parish, diocese, and churchwide levels. He will be attending his sixth General Convention in July, and chairs the House of Deputies Committee on Dispatch of Business, which directs traffic at General Convention. “Our church has a mission like the heart of the work I do at my organization. Episcopalians are called to save lives, free the oppressed, change unjust structures, and build a more humane world through Christ,” Kusumoto wrote.
Simpson has been dean of Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, since 2009, and previously served churches in the Diocese of Eau Claire, in Wisconsin. He worked as an accountant before entering the ordination process. “We are a denomination that was born and developed within the world of white privilege,” he wrote, acknowledging that he is a white man. “I want to build a leadership team that is more diverse than the church, because, if I am a leader, I need to hear those voices every day. I need to be reminded daily that my reality is a privileged one and that women, people of color, people of different gender identity, people of different socio-economic status, people with different physical abilities, people of different ages, and many others do not experience this same reality.” This will be his seventh General Convention, and he is secretary of the Committee on Dispatch of Business.
Taber-Hamilton is an Indigenous priest, and will be eligible to become vice president only if a lay person is first elected president, because the two offices must be filled by people from different orders. She is the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, Washington, and has served the Diocese of Olympia as president of the Standing Committee, and currently serves on the Commission on Ministry. This will be her third General Convention.
Despite the historical lack of compensation, no PHoD has held regular paid employment since 1985, meaning the role effectively was open only to retired people and people of means. This was a key argument when the 2018 General Convention voted to provide compensation.
In addition to chairing the House of Deputies, the PHoD serves as vice chair of the Executive Council, the governing body of the church between General Conventions. The individual also is empowered to sign contracts and write checks as vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the formal name of the corporation that runs the business functions of the Episcopal Church. The PHoD ranks behind only the presiding bishop, currently the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, and the two officers co-sign most important messages from the church. Over the course of a triennium, the PHoD will make about 700 appointments to committees, task forces, and offices.