Bonnie Anderson announced this week that she will not seek re-election as President of the House of Deputies. This puts the House of Deputies in a very interesting position, something akin to the 2008 presidential election, which was one of the few elections wide-open in both parties, with no incumbents or quasi-incumbents (like a sitting VP running for a nomination). Bonnie's announcement leaves us with vacancies in both the President and Vice President of the House of Deputies -- President, because the incumbent is not seeking re-election; Vice President, which is vacant since Brian Prior's resignation to after being elected Bishop of Minnesota.
Bonnie has been an energetic and dedicated President of the House of Deputies, and for once COD is snarkless: the Episcopal Church would be lost, rudderless, and ineffective without the gifts and talents of so many lay persons who serve the church out of love and dedication, and not because they are getting a sweet Church Pension Group payday at the end of their time. Throughout the history of Christianity, oft the place of dedicated lay persons who make up the 99% can be lost in a sea of clergy who get the headlines and often write the histories.
However, COD hopes that something will not be lost in the coming weeks and months as the jockeying begins for election for VPHOD and PHOD: conversations about the proper role of the President of the House of Deputies in the life of the church, and what office, if any, could be a parallel to the Primate or a clear-cut #2 elected position in the Episcopal Church. COD has been troubled by some sense that the PHOD could be seen as a kind of #2 in the Episcopal Church, or even a kind of Co-Primate.
To take a broader perspective, there really is no single elected or appointed leadership position in the Episcopal Church after or alongside the Presiding Bishop, who is designated as the Chief Pastor and Primate for this Province of the Anglican Communion. There are, however, a number of other elected and appointed offices. There is the Canon to the Presiding Bishop, who is appointed by the PB and deals with many pastoral and canonical matters. There is the Chief Operating Officer, also an appointed position, who handles many personnel and management issues for the staff of the Church Center. There is the Secretary of the General Convention, an elected office that has responsibility for many issues and areas of polity and governance. And there is the PHOD, who presides over the House of Deputies.
This is not the case in other Anglican provinces, which often elect a General Secretary as a province-wide leadership position in addition to the Primate. You can see the way the Episcopal Church is out of sync in this regard when there is the meeting of General Secretaries of member Provinces of the Anglican Communion; we are one of the few provinces that sends more than one person because no one person has the kind of job description other General Secretaries do.
Also, our ecumenical partners often have a designated leadership position in addition to the Head of Communion/Primate. The ELCA has a Secretary elected by the Churchwide Assembly for a 6-year term, which combines some of the functions of the Canon to the PB, PHOD, and Secretary of the GC. The Presbyterian Church USA has a Stated Clerk who is considered head of the communion, and also has a Moderator of the General Assembly, an elected position which involves governance and mission (imagine if all the denominational staff worked more directly for Standing Commissions -- not a perfect analogy, but a sense of how it works for the PCUSA whereby the denominational mission structure is a direct extension of the General Assembly).
The PHOD in recent years -- and here COD means more the office, not the person -- has acted in ways almost as a kind of Co-Primate. In a particularly startling move, the PHOD wrote directly to the individuals involved in the ecclesial trial of Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles Bennison, a letter later released publicly, in which she called on the House of Bishops (which would be gathering in a couple of weeks) to "consider the matter" and "prevail on Bishop Bennison to resign." Startling not because of the issues involved -- many, many people have wished Bishop Bennison would resign -- but by the PHOD issuing a public letter to someone in which she calls upon the HOB to take action. Had the situation been reversed, and the HOB called upon the PHOD or HOD to take certain actions, there most likely would have been an outcry that the Bishops were meddling in the workings of other church governing bodies. The PHOD also organized the first-ever meeting of deputies in between meetings of General Convention in Atlanta in March of 2011, which she termed "historic", and which one could not help but think was an effort to parallel meetings of bishops in between meetings of General Convention.
As COD has said before, this is troubling because the office of PHOD cannot be a Co-Primate, and cannot be by itself to be understood as a chief leadership position in addition or alongside the Presiding Bishop, for a couple of reasons. For one, the PHOD is an office of governance. The PHOD presides over the HOD and makes appointments to various bodies, and sits on various governance bodies by virtue of office -- it is an office defined by a particular role and function directly related to governance. The Presiding Bishop used to be the same way: the senior bishop in terms of consecration who consecrated and passed ecclesial sentence on other bishops, and presided over the HOB.
For another, the PHOD is not representative. The PHOD is nominated and elected by the HOD based solely on members of the HOD. The Presiding Bishop used to be the same way; simply the senior bishop in terms of consecration, with no selection or input from outside the HOB. Nominees for PB, by contrast, are now selected by a committee representative of clergy
and laity drawn from across the church; elected by the HOB; with
consent of the HOD. The Secretary of the ELCA, for instance, can be any lay or clergy person in the entire ELCA, not just a voting member of their Churchwide Assembly.
As we can see, the PB used to be like the PHOD: a fairly limited office of governance. What is important, though, is that the church has gone through a lengthy and extended discussion about the nature and role of the Presiding Bishop for most of the 20th century, and have made numerous and substantive changes and reforms to the office, debated in General Convention and defined by canon.
If the Episcopal Church is to have an additional churchwide leadership position drawn from the lay or clerical orders in addition to or alongside the Presiding Bishop, it must be a position that is created or adapted through a similar process of conversation. Crusty Old Dean would strongly endorse the creation of such an office, perhaps similar to the way other provinces have a General Secretary. Otherwise, trying to imagine a PHOD as
representative leadership position would be like saying the Speaker of the House of
Representatives should be Co-President or Vice President.
PS: And FWIW, COD is putting his money on Gay Jennings as next PHOD, if COD could put his money on someone. You know, in Britain you can almost bet on anything (check out most recent odds on the next Archbishop of Canterbury here from multiple betting sites). COD has long argued for a GC in Reno or Las Vegas, so that local casinos could post betting action on things like this.