Time to Pay the PHoD

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It’s Time to Pay the Presiding Officer of the House of Deputies.

Until yesterday, three resolutions were being considered to authorize some form of compensation for the President of the House of Deputies: A028 from Task Force to Study Church Leadership & Compensation, B014 from a group of bishops led by Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and C043 from the Province IV synod. Yesterday, however, the legislative Committee on Churchwide Leadership unanimously approved B014, and it is on the House of Deputies calendar for today. I hope we pass it.

Full disclosure at the outset:  I was on the task force established by General Convention in 2015 to study the issue and make recommendations.

The issue of compensating the president of the House of Deputies (PHOD) is not a new one. Formal resolutions have been proposed since as early as 1997, and the proverbial can has been kicked down the road for the last 20 years. The charge in Resolution D013 from 2015, arising from the big bundle of structural proposals, was more direct than ever: both houses agreed that “the House of Deputies considers it important that the House of Deputies be able to choose a President without regard to the financial circumstances of the candidates … [and] that the House of Bishops understands and appreciates the cogency of and fairness issues inherent in, the position of the House of Deputies …”

Careful study shows that the duties of the president are already set forth in the canons and other governing documents of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps most important, and often overlooked, is that the president necessarily has three distinct roles: not just as presiding officer of the House of Deputies, but also as vice chair of Executive Council and as vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), the corporate name under which the church conducts business.

These three positions are canonically established and are not divisible. Notably, of the five officers of the DFMS, the PHOD is the only one without compensation, even though the position imposes mandatory corporate, fiduciary, and organizational duties. Some have argued that the presidency of the House of Deputies is a self-made indeterminate position, defined mostly by the person holding the office. Our study, which was exhaustive, found this to be wrong.

Certainly personality is a distinctive characteristic of any elected leader, but the duties are objective. Some have reasonably called for a “job description” for the PHOD, but here again the governing documents are explicit about the duties, to the extent that the task force realized that crafting a generic job description would be either redundant or deficient because of over-inclusion or under-inclusion from what is already in our governing documents.

The duties are too numerous to list here, but they are laid out in the Blue Book report beginning at page 897. The appendix to the report cites everything, without commentary or opinion.  It comprises a job description as General Convention has already established it.

One canonical provision quite clearly already authorizes a salary for the PHOD because of the corporate responsibilities of the office:

“…Except as determined by Convention, the salaries of all officers of the Council and of all agents and employees of the Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society shall be fixed by the Council.” Canon I.4.5 (c).

I propose that the church do exactly what it says it should do: fix a salary for the PHOD commensurate with institutional duties and responsibilities.  How “salary” is defined does not seem critical to me at this time in the life of the church. Resolution B014 refers instead to “director’s and officer’s fees.” That’s fine. Nor does the exact amount seem critical to me for our legislative purposes. Executive Council has historically addressed compensation matters with expertise, attention, and grace as to the other four officers of DFMS.

But we must also be fair.  the Episcopal Church rightly takes pride in its attention to matters of economic justice, parity, openness, and non-exclusivity in the workplace. Why one principal officer of the church should be carved out from our best standards is perplexing.

Consider the practical implications. Even if you can’t envision this as a full-time job, it’s way more time-consuming than a part-time job on the side. So, as nearly everyone has acknowledged, we are confined to candidates who have independent means—for example, through retirement income, independent wealth, or comfortable reliance on a “working” partner. Are these really the models we want to impose on a modern church reviving itself in the Jesus Movement – wealth, age, dependence on others

All of us know that service to the church involves sacrifice. Laypersons who are not employed by the church are especially aware of this. But is unreasonable to expect someone to give up livelihood altogether.  The hard truth is that the pool of candidates under a no-pay system might not be the most talented or qualified.

And now to the elephant in the room: the fear that compensation may create parallel equivalency between the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies—a  two-headed monster in the church as some have bluntly described it. If there is any evidence that pay changes polity, I would like to see it.  Fair compensation would not change any matters of ecclesiastical authority. It would not diminish any of the canonical pre-eminence of the responsibility of the presiding bishop “for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy in the Church and speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention.” Canon I.2.4 (a). The presiding bishop will still be the president of DFMS and chair of Executive Council. Compensating all of the other officers and employees of DFMS has not diminished any of that authority, and neither will compensating the PHOD.

For years this issue has generated strong sentiment, to the point of endless postponement and avoidance. It has been studied thoroughly and should not be deferred yet again. The appropriate legislative committee has passed a simple, direct, and clear resolution that exemplifies the best of our legislative process: transparent, honest, collaborative, and fair. Both houses should adopt it and move on to the mission and ministry that we are all called to do.