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Not a Lot of Conflict at HoD President Forum

At the forum for candidates for president of the House of Deputy, moderator Ian Markham is at top left, and organizer Joe McDaniel at top right. Julia Ayala Harris is at left in the second row and Zena Link at right. Rachel Taber-Hamilton is in the bottom row.

Three candidates for president of the House of Deputies faced off in a 90-minute forum June 8, and anyone hoping for fireworks went away disappointed.

Julia Ayala Harris, Zena Link, and the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton responded to questions about the state of the church and their visions for its future, in an event moderated by the dean of the largest Episcopal seminary.

Ayala Harris has held the job of PHoD for the past two years. To have a chance of success, the other two candidates need to convince the House of Deputies that her performance has been bad enough that she should be tossed out of office. But they were very circumspect in making occasional critical comments.

Link and Taber-Hamilton will split the anti-incumbent vote, but there are no pluralities in Episcopal governance. Successive ballots will be cast if necessary until someone wins an outright majority.

Taber-Hamilton currently serves as vice president of the House of Deputies, and while she and Ayala Harris started off on good terms, they had a falling out related to perceived delays in appointing a commission to study Episcopal complicity in running assimilationist Indigenous boarding schools.

Taber-Hamilton, who is a rector in the Diocese of Olympia, launched a campaign against Ayala Harris in April. Link, a high school teacher and union leader with extensive theological training, announced her own bid in May.

The PHoD has a variety of executive duties, and is the second-ranking officer of the Episcopal Church. Ayala Harris will be paid $236,757 for 2024. VPHoD is an unpaid position with few duties beyond being a heartbeat away.

Throughout most of the discussion, each candidate repeatedly expressed agreement with something the others had said. Ayala Harris in particular made a point of praising the other candidates, referring to them as “two brilliant women.”

“Here we are on a slate of three women of color running for president of the House of Deputies, something that couldn’t have been imagined not that long ago,” she said.

Twenty minutes in, Dean Ian Markham asked the candidates for their thoughts on the proposed rules of order for General Convention. The topic is not as boring and bureaucratic as it sounds. It’s at the heart of the dissatisfaction with Ayala Harris that some deputies have expressed.

Early in her tenure, she appointed a committee of five people, including herself, to wrestle with how to strike a balance between the flexibility and convenience of online hearings, versus the relational benefits of conferring in person at General Convention.

It was an unusually small committee by Episcopal standards, and there was much consternation when the committee unveiled some fairly significant proposed rule changes in September. The proposed changes collectively would have the effect of reducing floor debate and the legislative workload at General Convention, by requiring resolutions to be submitted well in advance of the convention, and pushing more issues onto the consent calendar, where resolutions are approved in batches without debate.

“I think that there are perceptions that decisions are being made in silos and not in a wider forum for people to respond to,” Link said. “I want things to be more open to the profound wisdom of the deputation as a whole.”

Taber-Hamilton said the rule proposals were introduced “as how we were going to do convention 2024. So, we’ve done it, all right, and now we’re going to approve of what we’ve just done.” She added, “we need to backtrack a bit.”

“I wish I had brought more voices into that special committee that I made,” Ayala Harris said. “And so that’s been a big learning for me. That special committee did have three online feedback forms that took written feedback. They had two churchwide events that included over 600 people.”

The rules will be debated on June 23, the first legislative day, and Ayala Harris reminded the forum that a two-thirds vote is required to make any changes to the existing rules. At a recent legislative hearing, a strong push was made to vote down all proposed rule changes in favor of Resolution D022, which would appoint a task force to study the matter and make recommendations to the 2027 General Convention.

There was a bit of soft-spoken sparring near the end of the forum, when Markham asked a question about handling disagreement and conflict.

It was “said publicly that I was uninterested in participating in a special committee of rules of order. I made a point of asking to be appointed to that committee,” Taber-Hamilton said.

Ayala Harris acknowledged Tivuan Cooper, a deputy and member of the Executive Council, who wrote in the chat “something about Rachel not receiving a legislative committee assignment.” Ayala Harris noted she has taken on extra duties during Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s health issues. “And so our vice president, I wanted her to be free to be able to be on deck when she needs to be on deck, in addition to being able to focus on the eight or so other appointments that she has.”

Link said “there were some discrepancies between discussions between the two people. I think that that’s problematic, and there continue to be mishaps.”

Ayala Harris acknowledged there had been “rifts” on the Executive Council, and noted that “I also initiated bringing in a consultant to help us with our culture, who knew us really well — which is Zena Link.”

Executive Council member Joe McDaniels, who organized the forum on behalf of Deputies of Color — one of the groups that spoke out against the proposed rule changes — said 210 people watched the forum live. All of the 396 people who registered in advance will be sent an email with a link to the archived video.


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