Episcopal Café interviewed Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies about her life and work as President. She is not seeking re-election at General Convention 2012:
Café: What was your biggest surprise?
Anderson: It never occurred to me that the existence of the House of Deputies as we know it would be in jeapordy. The liturgical life is of primary importance to me, but after that, one of the reasons I am an Episcopalian is because I believe what it says in the BCP about the ministry of the laity (page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer). The Episcopal Church since 1785 has valued the voices of all the baptized in the way we make decisions. We make decisions together, clergy, laity, bishops all. This democratic decision making occurs in every venue of our life as Episcopalians; on vestries, at diocesan conventions and General Convention. I have been surprised at, what I perceive to be, an increase in the autonomy of some bishops and the willingness of the laity to disenfranchise themselves. Clergy are in a difficult position on this one, caught between bishops and laity. Verna Dozier called the laity “the sleeping giant”. It’s time for us, the lay people, to wake up, now.
Café: What do you wish you had known before you began this ministry?
Anderson: I wish I had known that there would be no Vice President of the House of Deputies during my second term of office. With no procedure in the canons for filling the vacancy, my great plans for dividing up the ministry between the PHOD and VPHOD during the 2010-2012 triennium did not happen. There were some super volunteers who “stepped up” to help, and if not for them and my assistant, I would have been completely under water.
Café: What is the funniest thing you experienced?
Anderson: There are many really funny things that happened. Our church has a good sense of humor, most of the time. Laughing at ourselves is one of our many strengths, I think.
I was in Memphis for a meeting and I was checking into a local hotel. The lobby was crowded and there was a line at the hotel registration desk. When it was my turn at the registration desk the woman next to me was in a “conversation” with the hotel clerk. It appeared that her reservation had been misplaced and the clerk was explaining to her there was no room for her at the hotel. She was understandably becoming frustrated and finally said, “Sir, I am with a group. We are the Daughters of the King.” He responded by saying, “Ma’am, I don’t care what Elvis group you are a part of, there is no room”.
I told this story at a meeting of the Daughter’s of the King at Kanuga, where I had stopped by to greet them. They laughed until they were crying!
Café: What is the personal attribute that you have that you feel was the most helpful throughout your time as President?
I believe in building strong relationships and I like people. Although my “Myers-Briggs” says I am an introvert, I like to be with people, cultivate new friendships and maintain long-time friendships. The other side of that same coin is that I need “renewal time” just to be alone. I love to read. Finding a balance as PHOD while maintaining family, friendships outside church, digging in the garden and doing other activities I enjoy, has been a challenge.
Cafe: What are some things the church needs to thrive?
As Episcopalians, we are spiritual AND religious. I think that when people say they are spiritual BUT NOT religious it likely means they don’t want to do the hard work of being in community. We are part of a religious community, the Episcopal Church, and our more intimate community is our worshipping community. I believe that God wants us to become the whole persons we were created to be. The best way I know how to move closer to wholeness is via the Christian life lived in community. In order to be truly authentic, we need to have a common language for telling the truth to each other. I don’t think we have that.
Café: Did you have any specifics that you hoped to accomplish during your tenure as PHOD? If so, what were they and have you accomplished them?
Yes. I had three primary goals.
I wanted to assist deputies in understanding their role. I wanted to be sure they know that there are always deputies in place. Deputies hold their office until they are not re-elected or choose not to stand for election. In that case, other people are elected to take their place. There are always deputies and we are leaders in our dioceses with opportunities for leadership in mission and ministry.
It has also been a goal of mine to increase the numbers of the people of color in leadership positions in the House of Deputies legislative committees and the committees, commissions, agencies and boards. I have been invited to many diocesan events across the Episcopal Church. The generosity of the dioceses, laity, clergy and bishops has enabled me to meet Episcopalians and to always keep my “antennae” up for people with particular gifts and skills that could enhance the ministries of governance, which, in turn, enable God’s mission. I have been successful in bringing the numbers of appointed leaders closer to the realities of church demographics.
I hoped to awaken our hearts to the call to ministry of all the baptized. From that understanding, there would be fertile ground for a new vision of a circular model of leadership and ministry for our whole Church. Some small steps have been taken, but we have a ways to go as a Church.
Read more about the life and work of the President and the House of Deputies here.