I first met Gay Clark Jennings at the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Church leaders who were appalled by the passage of Resolution B033, the infamous “manner of life” resolution, met for dinner. My boss at the time, Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington, brought me along.
The resolution in question called upon “Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” (Italics mine.)
The resolution was intended to make sure our bishops got invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and that our place in the Anglican Communion remained secure.
Those of us who thought we had sold out our LGBTQ siblings were left wondering how to undo the damage that had been done and reenergize the church’s movement toward marriage equality and fuller acceptance of LGBTQ people. I was fascinated by Gay’s clarity and frankness, both in analyzing the situation, and beginning to sketch out a way forward. She was clearly the best strategist and the best tactician at the dinner, and she understood implicitly the role everyone would need to play in moving us forward. She was, in short, an organizer.
In retrospect, I learned everything I needed to know about Gay that night. She was forceful and funny. She was clear-eyed, and she was not afraid of a scrap. When Ruth Myers and Bonnie Perry formed the Chicago Consultation to help advance marriage equality in the Episcopal Church and LGBTQ inclusion in the Anglican Communion, Gay was at the initial meeting, and once again I could see that she was willing to take the lead and take the hits, allowing others to follow in her wake.
Although she is among the most visible leaders in our church, Gay is also an accomplished behind-the-scenes diplomat. Yet—this will come as no surprise to you—she also knows how to hold her ground. Once elected as president, she knew how to use the power of her office to make the church do things it didn’t necessarily want to do. There was a price for this, because however democratic our polity may seem, when General Convention is not in session, the House of Deputies holds few cards. Gay’s work with Executive Council kept us from backsliding on LGBTQ issues and preserved our polity from incursions by people who preferred a more central-office, top-down style of governing. With a handful of others, whose work in the church she has advanced and protected, she is primarily responsible for the COVID safety precautions in place at this shorter, streamlined convention, as well as for the deputies’ mutual aid fund and COVID care ministries now underway.
Gay has managed to do certain things so adroitly that from the outside, it might have looked easy, or it might have seemed as though what everyone in authority in our church thinks now is what everyone thought all along. That is not the case. And one mark of her effectiveness is that she never cared if people knew what she accomplished as long as the work got done.
Thank you, Gay, for all the things we know you did—like advancing so many young leaders in our church—and for all the things we don’t.
image: Gay Clark Jennings during a Chicago Consultation Bible study in Limuru, Kenya, in 2013.