[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] With noisemakers and applause, party hat-wearing General Convention deputies celebrated the 230th birthday of their house on June 27. While members of the House of Bishops met in sequestration at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral a few blocks away to elect the next Episcopal Church presiding bishop, members of the first house of General Convention took time out from legislative debate to celebrate its history and honor several of its former leaders.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, house president, provided historical context for the celebration.
“The first session of the General Convention held in 1785 consisted only of the House of Deputies,” she said. “It adopted a constitutional provision establishing a separate House of Bishops, which joined the convention at its second session in 1789. So the House of Deputies is the older of General Convention’s two houses by four years.
“It’s hard to express how revolutionary the first General Convention, held in the wake of the American Revolution, really was,” she said. “It’s in that spirit, the spirit of innovation, shared responsibility and decision making, and celebration of our history, that I’ve invited our distinguished former leaders to join us this morning for our party.”
Jennings presented House of Deputies medals to several former house leaders in person and in absentia. Celebrants watched two videos, one featuring House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing, deputy of Massachusetts, interviewing Charles Willie, former house vice president. Deputies responded with a standing ovation, and Jennings presented Willie with the first medal.
“Dr. Willie is a groundbreaking African-American educator, the first African-American professor at Syracuse University, a distinguished public servant who worked with President John F. Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter, and a leader of desegregation,” Jennings said. As vice president of the House of Deputies he preached at the 1974 ordination of the “Philadelphia 11,” the first women ordained priests in The Episcopal Church. “When the bishops failed to uphold that ordination and give equal rights to women, he resigned his position in protest. Dr. Willie, we have not forgotten.”
Jennings also honored former House of Deputies presidents Bonnie Anderson, the Rev. George Werner, the Very Rev. David Collins and Bishop Brian Prior, and former vice presidents the Very Rev. Scott Kirby and Vincent Curry.
After the award presentations, deputies had the opportunity to pose with cardboard likenesses of the faces of famous house leaders of the past: Bishop William White; former house President Pamela Chinnis; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; and Charlie Crump, who served 17 terms as a deputy from the Diocese of West Tennessee.
“Seventeen General Conventions. Just think about that,” said his former chancellor, deputy C. Bradford Foster III. Foster said he used to tell people: “What do I do for Charlie Crump? I carry his briefcase; that’s all.”
— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.