Julia Ayala Harris, self-proclaimed ‘church geek’, elected Speaker of the House of Representatives – Episcopal News Service

Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives Julia Ayala Harris addresses the chamber as Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, the outgoing Speaker, listens. Photo: Scott Gunn

[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] The House of Representatives elected Julia Ayala Harris, a laywoman from Oklahoma, as its new Speaker during its morning session July 9 at the 80e General convention.

Ayala Harris, elected in the third round, will succeed Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, who is completing her third and final term. After the vote, Jennings invited Ayala Harris to come outside the convention hall and address the House of Representatives. She was joined there by the rest of the Oklahoma delegation.

“I am incredibly honored to be able to follow President Jennings,” Ayala Harris said. She thanked MPs for electing her while describing herself as a “church geek”.

“You sent the message to church geeks everywhere; that if you try hard and read the canons and read every minute, you can actually make a huge difference in this church,” she said.

“And I want to shout out to the home church geeks watching that I saw on Twitter this morning. I [too] been there watching the General Convention, thinking that one day I’ll be an MP, one day I’ll be on a legislative committee. And I think that tells you that you will be here one day to do that with us. Keep being the church geek that you are. Dolly Parton has the saying “find out who you are and do it on purpose”. Be a church geek on purpose.

Ayala Harris also thanked the four other MPs who ran for office. “I want to express my deepest gratitude to the other candidates on this historic list,” she said. “He is a brave and vulnerable person and I commend all of us for doing this in a way that I think inspires our church as we move forward. Thank you all for saying yes to this call.

Ayala Harris will take over from Jennings when the final hammer sounds in the House of Representatives on July 11. Each president is limited to three consecutive three-year terms. Jennings served a year longer than scheduled because the pandemic caused a one-year postponement of 80e General agreement.

“I don’t think anyone can replace you,” Ayala Harris told Jennings. “Thank you for your faithful service to this church, to your own vision and to all the change that is brought to you for justice, for inclusion, for Jesus.”

Ayala Harris thanked her family members, who she said were watching on the internet. “Thank you for supporting me and believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Even if you don’t know what this ‘President of the Chamber of Deputies’ is or does.

Then she said at home, “prepare to roll up your sleeves because we have a lot of work to do between now and the 81st General Convention,” which will be held in the summer of 2024.

MPs elected Ayala Harris from the youngest and most diverse slate ever presented to the House for the presidential election. She was ahead in each of the first two rounds of voting and was elected in the third round with 417 votes, 21 more than needed.

The other four candidates were Reverend Devon Anderson, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota; Rev. Edwin Johnson, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts; Ryan Kusumoto, Member of Parliament for the Diocese of Hawai’i, and the Most Reverend Ward Simpson, Dean of Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The role of the president has changed since 1964, when the convention gave the position a three-year term instead of simply being elected to preside during the convention. In addition to presiding over the House of Representatives during the convention, the President is also canonically bound to serve as Vice President of the Executive Council and Vice President of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, or DFMS, the corporate body to non-profit organization through which the Episcopal Church owns property. and do business. He or she has a wide range of appointment powers. The president also travels around the church, speaking at conferences and other gatherings and meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians.

After the election, Ayala Harris told Episcopal News Service that increasing the diversity of the interim bodies will be one of her immediate priorities, as she pushes for greater inclusion of people of color, non -English speakers, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ Episcopalians in the church. governance.

She brings her own experience to this work, as a working-class Latina who came to the Episcopal Church as an adult after being raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Although not a “birthday” Episcopalian, she has spent the past 21 years involved in the governance of the Episcopal Church at all levels, including most recently as a member of the Executive Council, governing body of the Church between General Convention meetings. She has also spent the past 20 years working professionally in the nonprofit sector.

“I am overwhelmed by everyone’s support,” she told ENS.

MEPs will elect their vice-president on July 10. The only candidate to publicly run for vice president is Reverend Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Diocese of Olympia, although others may declare their candidacy by 6 p.m. on July 9.

The two positions, filled by election at each assembly of the congress, cannot be occupied by members of the same order, clergy or laity. Because Ayala Harris is a layperson, only clergy MPs can run for vice president.

It will also be the first time that the Chamber of Deputies has elected a new president since 79e The 2018 General Convention approved a financial compensation plan for the position. Previously an unpaid volunteer, the President is now considered a contract employee and receives compensation for her work, set annually by the Executive Council.

Jennings’ pay is set at $223,166 for 2022, making her the lowest-paid church officer. The president is considered an independent contractor and receives no benefits, although the position has a travel budget and a paid assistant.

The vice-president remains an unpaid volunteer position.

Jennings, in his sermon for morning prayer earlier July 9, referenced the decision of the 79th General Convention to indemnify the person who holds the office of president. She credited this change for producing “the youngest and most diverse slate in church history”. Encouraging generational change in church leadership is one of her greatest accomplishments as president, she said. She also cited the 2015 General Convention vote for marriage equality and the church’s #MeToo work in 2018 as highlights of her tenure.

Following Ayala Harris’ election, Jennings shared a story from her own childhood, about how she was once in a second-grade play and played the role of the ugly duckling’s mother.

“Lame duck, wedge wedge wedge wedge,” she joked. “But there are still a few days of work to do.”

– Reverend Mary Frances Schjonberg retired in July 2019 as editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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