Episcopal Church President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings has presented her opening remarks to the Executive Council at its first meeting of the triennium.
The following is the text of her remarks:
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies
Opening Remarks to Executive Council
New Brunswick, NJ (Diocese of New Jersey)
October 15, 2012
There’s an old British saying I’ve had in mind these past few months: Start as you mean to go on. And since I was elected in July, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Now, in case you are aspiring to be the President of the House of Deputies one day, let me warn you about one thing: You don’t get much of a vacation after General Convention. It was a very busy summer of appointing leaders to commissions, committees, agencies and boards (CCABs). The energy and enthusiasm of young leaders that we all witnessed at General Convention resulted in a bumper crop of nearly 750 nominations of clergy and lay people for 142 positions.
After months of work and counsel from some wonderful wise people, I announced my appointments to standing commissions and joint standing committees of General Convention and committees of the House of Deputies on October 3. I’m very pleased to tell you that 66 percent of those appointed will be serving on a CCAB for the first time. Twenty-eight percent are people of color. Thirty percent are under age 40, and nearly half—47 percent—are under age 50. The median age of our new CCAB members is 52, which is five years younger than the median age of all Episcopalians in 2010. And I’ve even got a bishop on my council of advice.
Start as you mean to go on.
Later in this meeting, you will review and confirm or elect the appointments and nominations that the Presiding Bishop and I have made to committees of Executive Council. Those names reflect the same commitment to young, diverse leadership as my earlier round of appointments.
Bishop Katharine and I have had the opportunity to meet in New York several times since July, and when she returned from her sabbatical at the beginning of October, we began the stimulating and collaborative process of making our nominations to the structure task force mandated by Resolution C095. We’re not done yet, but we’ve made plenty of progress and even had some fun. Nearly 450 names came to us for the structure task force. I am grateful for the warm welcome and collegiality of the Presiding Bishop and members of her staff during these past few months and for their assistance as I learn the ropes. Thank you, Bishop Katharine.
Start as you mean to go on.
So the table is nearly set. But the dining room—really, the whole house in which we’ll gather for the meal—looks a whole lot different. As wonderful as I think the people are who have accepted appointments, simply appointing a new crop of leaders to populate old structures won’t do us much good. And as much confidence as I have in the yet-to-be-named structure task force, we can’t sit around waiting for three years for that group to think big thoughts, write a wise report, and save the Episcopal Church.
Perhaps you saw last week’s survey from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life? One-fifth of people in the United States, and one-third of adults under 30, are religiously unaffiliated. And, as the report points out, “With few exceptions…the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”
Nothing—no structure task force, no evangelism campaign, no mission initiative—is going to save the Episcopal Church that those of us over age 50 remember from our childhoods. But doing all of those things and more, in new ways, will allow us to create a new Episcopal Church.
So we need to start practicing restructuring right now. In our case, as Executive Council members, I think that means we’re called to give up some of our old ways of doing things, give up some of our power to make room for new leaders, and give up some of our entrenched positions to see if we can’t just make practicing restructuring look a lot like practicing resurrection. I think that’s the most important thing I will say today.
Start as you mean to go on.
We need to start the new triennium’s work by adopting healthy ways of working together. I love top ten lists—you can find my first top ten list for deputies on the House of Deputies website—and here’s my top ten list for Executive Council:
10. We’re here to serve the church, not the other way around.
9. Be kind. If you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t say it on social media.
8. No whining. We are each enormously privileged to be able to serve in this way.
7. No triangles. Bishop Katharine and I have pledged to each other that we won’t do that. If you’re unhappy with me, come to me about it. I promise I’ll do the same for you.
6. Be leaders. The Church has elected us to serve as leaders.
5. Bring your whole and authentic self to serving on Executive Council. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
4. Get to know the staff and work with them. They are enormously gifted and want to offer their passion and expertise for the good of the Church.
3. If you don’t understand something, ask a question. If something isn’t clear to you, it’s a sure bet it’s not clear to someone else as well.
2. Remember that we and the people we serve are the beloved children of God – made in His image, redeemed by His Son, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
1. And finally, start as you mean to go on.
Now, I know we’re straining to get to committees so we can harness all of this new energy and resolve. But I have one piece of business left. We’re ushering in a big group of new leaders in this triennium, but we’re bidding farewell to one leader whose jackets will be impossible to fill. I’d like to close this morning by presenting the first House of Deputies Medal to the Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory S. Straub, who retires as General Convention executive officer on January 1 after nearly eight years and three General Conventions.
I first met Gregory in 1998 at a Roman Catholic retreat center in Sierra Madre, California. He was a participant in the third CREDO conference for clergy and I was a faculty member. We became fast friends and have remained so to this day.
For many years, Gregory has served the Episcopal Church with distinction, common sense, good humor, and steadfast devotion. He was a consummate parish priest serving Emmanuel Church in Chestertown, Maryland for 30 years, and when he sought my counsel about the position of executive officer, I told him he was born for that job. He served as the secretary of the Convention of the Diocese of Easton for 23 years as well as secretary of numerous boards and organizations. He is precise, he is attentive to detail, and he goes about his work in such a way that order is born out of chaos. He keeps track.
Some people might say that Gregory’s sense of sartorial splendor is his most unique gift to the Church. Certainly there are a number of Gregory wannabes as you can see from one of the pictures. Just a few days ago, in fact, I heard of a young man of 13 who is attending a dance. He asked to go shopping for a bow tie. You see, he had witnessed classic taste and grace in the person of Gregory at General Convention, and he knew exactly what sense of style he wished to emulate.
But if you think Gregory’s sartorial splendor is his greatest gift, you would be wrong. Gregory’s greatest gifts are these: his love of the Episcopal Church, his integrity and strength of character, his ability to size up situations and people and make good decisions, his devotion to friends and colleagues, his perceptive mind and deep appreciation of history and tradition, his wickedly dry sense of humor, not to mention his ability to travel the world by rail, sea and air (in that order of preference) and find something fascinating about each place he visits.
For all of these reasons, in recognition of his distinguished service to the House of Deputies and the Episcopal Church he loves so dearly, and with gratitude for his friendship, wisdom, and counsel, I am pleased to award the inaugural House of Deputies Medal to Gregory Straub.
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