The following are the opening remarks of President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, which met virtually on July 22.
July 22, 2020
Greetings. I’m glad to be with all of you today. Thank you for your continued commitment to stepping up our work and our meeting schedule during the pandemic. And thank you, especially, for your Zoom stamina.
Speaking of Zoom: Last week, I knew I’d entered a new phase of Zoom life when I had one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in a long while, and it all happened on Zoom. Let me tell you about it.
Staying home has meant that I’ve had more time for my favorite pastimes, like building spreadsheets of deputies. And this spring, my spreadsheets made it clear that nearly all of the deputies to the 80th General Convention have been certified. So even though we are still considering alternatives if the pandemic prevents us from meeting next summer as planned, we deputies can now begin to gather—on Zoom, of course. These first meetings are especially important to me because, as has been the case in recent years, nearly half of our deputies are first-time deputies. So our online gatherings are a chance to welcome new people to the community of the House of Deputies.
Last week, we began a series of webinars for deputies and alternate deputies to hear from fellow Episcopalians about the ministry of governance to which we have been called. Our first guest was the only Episcopalian in the church who has received more media attention in the last year than our Presiding Bishop: former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
Thanks to Deputy Brian Grantz of Northern Indiana, who is dean of the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, we were able to spend an hour with Mayor Pete on Zoom. Deputy Grantz introduced Mayor Pete, who he says has sat “in the same seat on Sunday morning in the fourth pew from the back, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday for 10 years.” Obviously, he is a true Episcopalian if he sits in the same pew every week!
After his opening remarks, I got to ask Mayor Pete questions submitted by deputies from across the church both in advance and during the webinar. We got to hear his story of coming to The Episcopal Church, his thoughts on how faith communities can help rebuild trust and equity in our political and civic institutions, and how Truman and Buddy, the famous rescue dogs with their own Twitter account, are doing. You can watch the video on the House of Deputies Facebook page, on our website, or on the Deputy News YouTube channel. I’m grateful to Egan Millard of Episcopal News Service for his story about the event, and I commend that to you also.
Perhaps my favorite moment in our time with Mayor Pete was when I got to ask him my own question: Why does it matter when church bodies like General Convention pass resolutions advocating on national and global issues? Does it matter?
Here’s what Mayor Pete said, and it warmed this president’s heart: “It does matter. It matters to me. It matters precisely, I think, because it comes from outside of the traditional political space. It matters because there’s a kind of moral authority. … When there is an expression about the moral values that religious faith leads a certain community toward, that have consequences, that should … affect the way that leaders in either party respond, that’s a powerful way to cut through some of the noise. Because it doesn’t originate from one political party or the other.”
Especially in this polarized time, when even our basic democratic structures are under duress, I appreciate Mayor Pete’s reminder that our witness for gospel justice, our ministry of advocacy matters. I hope that his words are empowering to deputies, to all of us here at Executive Council and to Episcopalians across the church as we continue seeking ways to confront the pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism.
It will be hard to top Mayor Pete, but we’re going to try! In September, deputies and alternate deputies will gather for another webinar. This time, Vice President Byron Rushing will host a conversation with two former deputies, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of Indianapolis and Bishop Deon Johnson of Missouri. And in November, we are going to hear from our newly appointed theologian of the House of Deputies, Professor Scott MacDougall of Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Scott is going to talk with us about the work of church governance as theological work. Our structures, he says, are relational theology embodied. “What a critical responsibility it is to be in the position to theologically enact what it means to be church,” he told me when we met last week.
So while I suffer from Zoom fatigue just like we all do, I have renewed gratitude for the ways that our newfound online skills are allowing us to gather, to build the community of deputies, and to think deeply about our call to the ministry of governance. Thank you all for answering that same call, especially in these extraordinary times.