Toward Columbus: Werner Marks 36 Years of Service to General Convention

Episcopal News Service. April 18, 2006 [041806-5-A]

Melodie Woerman, Director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and member of the Episcopal News Service 2006 General Convention reporting team

This year the Very Rev. George L. W. Werner will complete 36 years in the House of Deputies, and that body elects his successor during General Convention this June.

Werner will have served six years as president. He was elected at General Convention in 2000 in Denver and re-elected in 2003 in Minneapolis. He also served two terms as vice president of the House of Deputies, from 1994 to 2000, with then-president Dr. Pamela Chinnis. He previously served eight terms as a deputy, and as deputation chair, from the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Reflecting on his time as leader of the House's lay and clergy deputies, Werner said he was especially proud of bringing more young people into the workings of General Convention.

"I was anxious to appoint youth to positions at the table," he said. "We had talked about that ever since I have been in the church."

He also said he made a conscious effort to stay in touch with all parts of the Episcopal Church.

"I have chosen to go out and visit the church because we are in a time of some tension, and I have tried to connect," he said. "That's something a beat-up old parish priest like me was told to do back in the '60s."

This will mark the first time in 21 years that the leaders of both houses of General Convention -- the President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop, who chairs the House of Bishops -- will change in the same year. It last happened in 1985, with the conclusion of the terms of Dr. Charles R. Lawrence and Presiding Bishop John M. Allin.

Election date pending

From 1979 to 2000, Werner was dean of Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh. Because the Pittsburgh diocese did not re-elect Werner as a deputy in 2004, he became ineligible for election to a third three-year term. The president of the House of Deputies must be a sitting deputy to stand for election to the leadership post.

By tradition, the president of the House of Deputies alternates between a clergy and a lay deputy. If deputies choose to follow that tradition, a layperson would succeed Werner. The House's current vice president, Bonnie Anderson of Michigan, said she intends to run for the post. She will complete a three-year term as vice president at this meeting of Convention.

Once a president is elected, by canon the vice president must be of the other order. Both the Rev. Brian Prior of Church of the Resurrection in Veradale, Washington, outside of Spokane, and the Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio, associate director of CREDO Institute, Inc., have said they will run for the office. Prior has just completed a term as a provincial representative on Executive Council. Jennings, formerly Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Ohio, is a five-time deputy who has chaired 2 legislative committees at General Convention.

Werner said recent precedent has placed election of the president of the House of Deputies on the third business day of General Convention. This year that would be Thursday, June 15, although that timeline is not certain until a final agenda is adopted by deputies.

Werner's term as president, and Anderson's as vice president, will run through the conclusion of General Convention's Columbus meeting.

Varied duties

In addition to serving as presiding officer at the meeting of the House of Deputies at General Convention, the president also serves as vice president of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, the elected body that oversees the governance of the church between conventions. The president also appoints lay and clergy members of most committees, commissions, agencies and boards that serve the church.

The vice president assists the president and often serves as a liaison to various church committees. Anderson headed the General Convention Task Force that looked at how General Convention functions and has chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance.