Julia Ayala Harris, a deputy from the Diocese of Oklahoma, was elected today as president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. Her term as one of the denomination’s two presiding officers begins on Monday at the close of the church’s General Convention in Baltimore. She will be the first Latina and first woman of color to hold the position.
Ayala Harris, 41, a first-generation Mexican-American and the daughter of an undocumented immigrant, was elected from a field of five candidates on the third ballot. Her candidacy was endorsed by the House of Deputies LGBTQ Caucus.
“I came to the Episcopal Church 21 years ago, when I was 20 years old, after a crisis of faith in the Roman Catholic Church of my childhood and the evangelical church of my teens,” Harris wrote on a personal website. “In the Episcopal Church, I have continually found healing, blessing, and wholeness in God’s unconditional love. Throughout my lay ministry, I have worked to bring about a church that can share that blessing with all of God’s people.”
The House of Deputies, with more than 800 lay and clergy members, is half of the church’s bicameral General Convention, which normally meets every three years to set the Episcopal Church’s mission priorities, budget and policies. The convention, postponed from 2021, is meeting in Baltimore from July 8 to 11 for a shortened session due to COVID-19.
Ayala Harris, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity International University and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, is a doctoral student in leadership development at the University of Oklahoma and a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma. She has worked in social service organizations that serve women, children and people with disabilities, and from 2005 to 2008, was an international aid worker in Kenya and South Sudan.
From 2015 to 2022, she served on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, where she chaired the Joint Standing Committee for Mission Within the Episcopal Church. As president of the House of Deputies, she will serve as the Executive Council’s vice chair.
Ayala Harris and her husband, John Harris, a professor of regional and city planning at the University of Oklahoma, live with their teenage daughter, Izzy, in Norman, Oklahoma.
She will succeed the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings of the Diocese of Ohio, who has served as House of Deputies president since 2012.
The other candidates for president were:
- The Rev. Devon Anderson of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota
- Ryan Kusumoto of the Diocese of Hawaii
- The Rev. Edwin Johnson of the Diocese of Massachusetts
- The Rev. Ward Simpson of the Diocese of South Dakota