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Indigenous Priest Elected Vice President of Deputies

By Kirk Petersen

The House of Deputies elected the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton of the Diocese of Olympia on July 10 to serve as vice president for the shortened triennium, or biennium, that runs through the 2024 General Convention.

With the election of Julia Ayala Harris of the Diocese of Oklahoma as president the prior day, the top two officers of the house will be a Latina lay woman and an Indigenous female priest.

Taber-Hamilton was the only person to declare candidacy for vice president before the 80th General Convention in Baltimore. One of the unsuccessful candidates for president, the Rev. Edwin Johnson of the Diocese of Massachusetts, took advantage of a six-hour window of opportunity to declare for vice president, which broadened the field to two. Taber-Hamilton prevailed on a single ballot, 448 to 341.

Under the canons, the president and vice president must be from different orders. The benefit of this provision is not obvious, as the vice president has only one defined duty: to step up if the president leaves office before the end of the term.

In practice, the vice president serves in ceremonial roles and as an adviser to the president. The vice president is uncompensated, while the president makes more than $200,000 a year.

Vice President Byron Rushing addresses his fellow deputies. | Scott Gunn photo

The retiring vice president is Byron Rushing of Massachusetts, who served for more than 30 years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He is also the senior deputy, having served since the 1973 General Convention. Like the retiring president, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, Rushing will leave office at the closing gavel on July 11.

Rushing has never wanted to ascend to the top position. In a brief address to the house earlier in the day, he said that since the beginning of their joint tenure, he lights a candle for Jennings whenever he visits a church that has candles.

“Sometimes, to make sure she believes me, I take photographs,” he said.

“Our church does need to adapt, to appreciate the reality of what will be our increased diversity,” Taber-Hamilton told TLC after the vote. “But I also, as an Indigenous person, value our elders, and value those who’ve gone before us,” and want to incorporate their vision into the body of the church.

Taber-Hamilton is a member of the Shackan First Nation, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, Washington, and a recent contributor to TLC’s Covenant weblog. Her May 22 article, “The Great Burning,” examined the need for reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous communities.


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