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GC Report from Deputy John Talbert, June 26

I am growing into my new legs on the floor of the House of Deputies, which involves a lot of things. The learning curve is steep, but if you pay attention and take good notes, things fall into place quickly. Understanding the timing of consent calendars, monitoring the House of Initial Action’s debate, and understanding the nuances of the Rules of Order (which are quite different from our “Russell’s Rules”) are a few of the things among many that deputies juggle throughout the General Convention.


For the truly bold, a more intimate “rite of passage” is to offer personal testimony.


A great beauty of the House of Deputies is our diversity. Having the opportunity to hear from all people, both rising “against” and “in favor” of a motion, aids our prayerful consideration of every resolution. Every motion impacts the lives of Episcopalians in some capacity, affirming or conflicting with an individual’s theology, political dedications, moral convictions, or livelihood. Unfortunately, only a minority of resolutions brought to the floor are passed, or defeated, unanimously.


Yesterday, I felt called to be bold. I rose to speak against the Budget of The Episcopal Church. I’m a little different in that I enjoy diving into the numbers of budgets and rules across the many avenues of my life. (Yes, I said “enjoy”; I’m an enneagram 5w4.) In recent years I began noticing certain financial patterns that concerned me that also appeared in the 2025-2027 Budget for The Episcopal Church. So when Resolution A164 for its adoption came to the floor, I prepared my comments and queued to speak.


Over the 8-10 minutes of waiting after my irrevocable submission to the queue, I think my heart rate jumped from 70 to 120 bpm. But finally, President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris leaned into her microphone and said, “I call on Deputy John Talbert from the Central Gulf Coast to speak at microphone 8.”


I nearly tripped getting out of my seat as I raced with my tablet to the nearby podium. I was nervous… I knew the budget would undoubtedly pass because it would be detrimental to the work of the General Convention for it to fail. My hope was that my fellow deputies would hear the love and search for justice in my words, and not hear it as a noisy gong only further delaying our business. I only had a strict two minutes to speak, and I worried: “Did I write too much?” and “Would I be speaking too fast for the interpreters?”


I approached the podium, took a deep breath, and stepped into the blinding spotlight over the microphone to share the following remarks with 860+ dedicated leaders who love the Episcopal Church:

“Thank you, Madam President. I am Deputy John Talbert of the Central Gulf Coast, he/him pronouns, and I stand to speak against the budget.


My concern with the proposed budget as presented is regarding funds allocated for the Staffing of our many departments. I am pastorally sensitive that my comments greatly impact the livelihood of our staff’s families and households. However, it is our responsibility as a House to speak to the budget faithfully and honestly.


“Across the board” percentage raises are disproportionately advantageous for employees with higher salaries and perpetuate the injustices of wealth inequality in a workspace and in our church.


The Consumer Price Index Cost of Living Adjustment is a tool developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on the average salary of urban and clerical workers.


When an individual who makes over $60,000 receives the same proportionate increase in salary, the increase in their salary most likely exceeds the realized inflation experienced by their household, an amount of which would require our knowledge of each individual staff member’s consumption practices.


In this budget, a “3% raise” is realized quite differently between individuals and Departments. Individuals in our Human Resources and Information Technology Departments would receive nearly $8400 over three years. Our Treasurers $8000. And Our Lawyers $16000 each over the triennium.


In comparison, our staffer for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, our Refugee Loan Collection employees, and Facility Workers…will only receive $4400.


Giving a fourth…or at best half of the amount given to another human being and rationalizing it as “cost of living” is an injustice. It is the march of wealth inequality. Cost of living is about living; it is about human needs… not about extending luxury spending for those on top while others struggle to buy groceries. Cost of living increases should be an amount, not a percentage.


Using “Cost of Living Adjustments” to provide raises is easy… but I believe it is ethically wrong, and it conflicts with the biblically grounded approach to stewardship for a church charged to give to each according to their need. A story that this budget does not embody. This is about equity VS equality…” and then I got cut off.


I only had two words left…I was so close! Looking down at my screen I saw and the end of my speech “Thank you.” My watch read 135bpm.


Then there was silence; which is the rule of the House. I returned to my seat and sat down.

Afterward we heard from a few other deputies whom had equally important passions about the proposed budget and its impact on their own call to ministry. A few minutes later we voted.


When prompted by the president, a majority of the room cried out nearly unanimously with a loud “Yay”. When the “nays” were called to speak, I stood by my convictions and released a “No” from my lips, and I even think I heard a handful of others in unison across the floor. Then we just moved on to the next order of business.


Not long after I received a few supportive texts from friends I had made within other deputations. My fellow “Under 40 Caucus” members placed “heart” and “thumbs up” emojis on my comments in our chat. Nevertheless, business marched on, just as the rules required.

A half hour later the president of the House called for a recess of 20 minutes. A thunderous sound of everyone pushing their chairs backfilled the room as we stood for a stretch and body break. Nearly as soon as I stood up, the Rev. Patty Downing, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, approached me and asked if we could talk. Rev. Downing has immense experience and knowledge in the governance of our church and as the chair of the Joint Budget Committee is privy to nearly all major decisions The Episcopal Church makes regarding their stewardship of the $143,191,157 the House approved to be spent over the upcoming triennium. To say the least, I was deeply honored and equally surprised to have her exclusive attention.


She spoke to my words and expressed how a budget is just a story and not a binding assignment for each department. She and I talked about how they estimated the staff needed for the ministries of the church and how the JBC was preparing to be flexible to the unknown priorities of a new presiding bishop. She asked me to clarify my concerns (which was much easier to do outside of the restraints of a ticking clock) and I truly felt her engagement and attention as she listened. The spirit of our time together was a discussion about what is necessary for the governance of the church, and although we disagreed on the verbiage, I felt that she affirmed my feelings and as best she was able at the time helped me understand the difficult road ahead to make real change within our governing systems.


During the recess, I walked from our stanchion to the hallway and back. I was stopped once by a priest, the rector of her church, who thanked me and said, “I have been convicted by my brother and know now that I need to consider how I can better support my own staff.” Another deputy sought me out to ask for a copy of the testimony I shared above. He said for him it was “like a light bulb”, expressing that as an economics scholar active in his own diocesan governance was hopeful he could take it home to share with his brothers and sisters in ministry. A handful of others simply said “thank you” or smiled at me as they gave me the non-verbal “fist bump on the chest” that told me my words had made it to their hearts.


Speaking from the minority is hard, but speaking from your heart gives you strength; especially when our convictions drive us to speak up for those we believe are being treated unjustly: the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the powerless, and the oppressed. Those breaths are always spent wisely. I encourage you to discern how love is guiding your own heart and let love flow from your lips. Understand that no matter how hard walking the road ahead may be… so long as you walk in love, there will be peace at its end. Believe in Jesus who said to his followers: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” (NRSV Mt 17:20)


Walk in Beauty,

Deputy John Talbert

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