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VP Forum: Rules of Order & the Church’s Future

By Shireen Korkzan
Episcopal News Service

The three declared candidates for House of Deputies vice president, in a June 15 online forum, addressed topics ranging from contemporary challenges The Episcopal Church is facing today to proposed changes to the deputies’ Rules of Order.

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, a professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California; the Rev. Steve Pankey, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky; and the Rev. Charles Graves IV, campus missioner at the University of Houston, are vying to succeed the incumbent vice president, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, who was elected in 2022.

The Deputies of Color and Seminary of the Southwest hosted the 90-minute Zoom forum, moderated by the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean of Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

The House of Deputies vice presidential election is expected to be held June 27, though the date could change when the House of Deputies convenes June 23, the first official day of the 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. The presidential election is scheduled for June 25, allowing time for any additional deputies to declare vice presidential candidacies.

Taber-Hamilton is challenging incumbent President Julia Ayala Harris for the presidential position. She said she does not intend to run for vice president if she loses the presidential race. Because the two offices must be held by members from different orders, clergy and lay, the final slate for vice president won’t be known until after a president is electedGeneral Convention deputies are permitted to seek election as president and vice president after clearing a background check. It is possible there are still undeclared candidates.

Video of the candidate forum is now available here for viewing on demand.

Pankey is a four-time deputy from the Diocese of Kentucky who was an Executive Council member from 2020 to 2022. He serves on the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons and is a member of Ayala Harris’s Council of Advice. In his opening remarks, Pankey expressed his love for General Convention and his desire to work alongside Ayala Harris if she’s reelected.

“I also feel called to run for vice president to lift up the diverse and impactful ministries of all of our deputies,” he said. “The House of Deputies is perhaps the largest gathering of church leaders that The Episcopal Church has, and I think we can find ways as a community to better tell our story of hope and love as discerned through Jesus.”

Meyers, a six-time deputy from the Diocese of California, said the House of Deputies could benefit from her experiences serving in myriad roles in The Episcopal Church.

“Being able to offer my knowledge and understanding of legislative process and systems, to support deputies, to work collaboratively with the president is why I’m running for vice president of the House of Deputies,” she said.

Graves, who has served on Executive Council since 2019 and serves on Ayala Harris’s Council of Advice, will be a first-time General Convention deputy from the Diocese of Texas in 2024. He’s also a member of the deputies’ Accessibility & Inclusion Committee, Deputies of Color, the Young Adult Caucus and the LGBTQ+ Caucus. Graves said that despite not having served as a deputy before, like Pankey and Meyers, he’s been a part of General Convention in various capacities since 2012.

“I’m a candidate for vice president because my view of this role, and of our role as a House of Deputies, especially at this convention, is deeply oriented around the future. What does the future of our church look like?”

Deputies of Color is an umbrella group that combines the four caucuses that are organized based on the church’s Indigenous, Latino/Hispanic, Black/African descent and Asiamerica ministries. The group developed the forum questions along with the Seminary of the Southwest.

In response to a question about addressing challenges the church faces, Meyers framed her answer in terms of post-Christendom, or a time of declining Christian institutions and declining Christian social and cultural influence.

“There’s a lot of anxiety in our systems about what feels like church decline, and so [we need to find] ways to really reframe our view of the church, to reclaim our call as followers of Jesus Christ and to work with the president of House of Deputies, with the new presiding bishop, in really inspiring the church to be followers of Jesus Christ who are committed to the ministry of reconciliation.”

Graves responded that most college students he’s worked with at the University of Houston have “almost no contact with The Episcopal Church” and that many students have expressed negative views of Christianity.

“We need to continue to work on how to be more flexible, how to continue to enable and support those local communities that we have and how to take some of the burden away that they can struggle under so that we can continue to be a more fruitful church everywhere that we serve,” he said.

Pankey said one of the church’s biggest problems is lacking a “cohesive identity.” He suggested the vice president of the House of Deputies should “lift up” the voices of the next presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies and make sure their messages of hope and love are shared across church communities.

The three candidates also provided their opinions on the proposed changes to the House of Deputies’ Rules of Order. Graves and Pankey spoke in favor of the proposed changes, but Meyers expressed “significant” concerns about many of them and “the process by which they came to be.”

“I don’t think that there was a sufficiently broad and representative committee that developed the proposals to begin with,” Meyers said. “Right now, the collegial work that we’ve been able to do in building relationships with bishops and deputies is not happening at the depth I think it needs to happen. … I think we need to step back and think about what our values are in governance to say what we can learn and what’s gone well.”

For a later question, Kittredge invoked the church’s major turning point on same-sex marriage in 2015, asking specifically about that year’s Resolution A036, which authorized the solemnization of same-sex marriages. Graves, who is gay, said he wasn’t a deputy at the time but was in favor of the change.

Pankey said in 2015 he voted in favor of same-sex marriage in A036 but he voted against the resolution authorizing the liturgies because he wasn’t in favor of some of the language in the trial-use rites. The resolution (A054) also included a gender-neutral adaptation of the marriage rite in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

“I didn’t think it was good liturgy,” he said. “Since then, I have officiated at several same-sex weddings. I have used both the authorized rights that came through and adaptations of the Book of Common Prayer liturgy and have since grown to love all of them. But at the time I didn’t like precisely the language and the way that the liturgy was flowing when it was being proposed way back then.”

Meyers, who led the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in 2009-15, played a key role in writing A036 and in developing the liturgies for same-sex couples. In a follow-up, she addressed Pankey directly.

“Steve, it saddens me that you found that the alternative rite for witnessing a blessing, a marriage, is not good liturgy. It saddens me not so much because I had a hand in bringing that forward … but rather because we started out looking at the development of the rite and crafted principles for what the rite should look like,” Meyers said. “I’m glad that you’ve been able to use both rites since then, and I hope maybe it’s grown on you a little bit. Sometimes hearing new liturgy can just not feel right, even when we’ve done our best to make it feel right.”

The candidates also shared their theological understanding of church governance and structure and how it relates to building relationships and becoming Beloved Community.

“Just as Jesus empowered his disciples to do ministry, I think our governance and our structures need to empower lay folks and clergy who are bivocational and half-time – or blessed like me to have a full-time salary in a congregation – to do the work that they have been called to do,” Pankey said. “So how do we take those big, important topics that the church writ large needs to discuss and bring them down to the local level, I think, is a key question for us to answer.”

Graves called for removing geographical and demographical barriers that inhibit inclusion.

“Give as many people as possible the opportunity to engage and to share their voices,” he said.


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