Ivan Gutierrez and the Rev. Kay Sylvester both say they ran for election to the diocesan Standing Committee simply “because somebody asked me to.”
For Gutierrez, a member of La Iglesia de Magdaleno in Glendale, that someone was Canon Clare Zabala Bangao, diocesan coordinator for mission congregations. “She broke it down for me, the background, what it was, and my interest was wanting to represent my sector of the community within the diocese.”
The opportunity seemed ideal for Gutierrez, 37, who is working on a Ph.D. in organizational leadership. He views the monthly meetings — held online in the time of Covid-19 — as “learning sessions from the bishops; information to us, and us to them.”
Now about halfway through his 4-year term, Guiterrez says the group “has become a brotherhood and sisterhood and is getting stronger. It is nice to see the different sectors of demographics, languages, cultures, coming together as one body for the mission of Christ. Everybody there is from different parts of the diocese.”
The Standing Committee typically meets once a month on Wednesdays and consists of four clergy who are canonically resident in the diocese and four lay people who reside within the diocese and are communicants at area congregations. Members of the Standing Committee are elected by diocesan convention for staggered terms of four years. The Standing Committee acts as the diocese’s ecclesiastical authority if bishops are absent or incapacitated.
Gutierrez, a community relations officer for the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service, said the committee’s work “100% has opened my eyes to understand all the moving parts of the diocese. I can more fully appreciate all the hard work that goes into moving the diocese in one direction or another.”
Canon Randy Kimmler told the Episcopal News he agreed to stand for election “because I love the church.” And, after 36 years of serving as staff for Southland congregations and the diocese, “I felt I had a lot of experience and time I could offer.”
For Kimmler, 72, retired diocesan associate for Formation and Transitions Ministry, serving on the Standing Committee has a familiar feel, especially since the committee is involved in the discernment and ordination process for aspiring clergy.
Sylvester, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Paul’s Church in Tustin, considers that aspect of the group’s responsibilities “our most joyful work.
“We get to approve people at several points in the discernment and ordination process,” she said. “We participate in those interviews with the Commission on Ministry because we vote on those folks, too. We read their files. We ask questions and we get to know them. This is the most solemn thing we do.”
The committee also signs off on such matters as cell tower leases for congregations, and approves building or property upgrades and rental agreements, in tandem with the Corporation of the Diocese. “We review a lot of leases and loans and we look at church financials,” Sylvester said.
But “there is no particular skill set that would limit service” on the Standing Committee, Sylvester added. “The more perspectives, the better. It’s very stimulating work and we want team members who really want to be there. So please consider running for the Standing Committee.”
With meetings now held online, geography is no longer a barrier for those in outlying regions of the diocese. “There is an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation and we learn the most when we say, ‘I don’t understand, could somebody explain that to me?’” said Sylvester. “Those are the richest and most informative conversations we have.
“It is a ministry. It feels like real service.”
The Standing Committee also votes to approve bishops’ elections from across the wider Episcopal Church. “We had the opportunity to flesh out the beginnings of the LGBTQ presence in the House of Bishops,” Sylvester said. “We got to approve the episcopal elections of Maine Bishop Thomas Brown and Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson and Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry — those are historically momentous.”
According to canon law (III.11.3), newly elected bishops undergo a 120-day consent process during which a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees from across The Episcopal Church must approve of their ordination and consecration.
The Rev. Canon Gary Hall, interim dean of Bloy House, said he ran for Standing Committee to support the bishops and “because I am one of those people that finds the workings of the church holy, even the kind of nuts and bolts workings like a vestry meeting, Standing Committee meetings, diocesan convention — that’s the way God’s work gets done in the church, through our processes.
“It all has spiritual implications, and we’re a very prayerful group,” Hall said. “We begin and end every meeting with prayer. Sometimes we stop and pray in the middle if we have a hard decision to make.”
It is inspiring to get to know the bishops and diocesan leadership more personally, he added. “The bishop comes to your parish once a year or every three years and you don’t have a chance to know the bishops the way you do when you’re working with them.”
Gutierrez said becoming personally acquainted with the bishops and Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy has magnified awareness that their interest and support “is genuine and true. I couldn’t be more proud or happy to have them as the head of our diocesan leadership because I know we’re in good hands.”
Sylvester agreed. “The interaction with the bishops and Melissa McCarthy makes us feel we are part of their work. It’s an exhilarating atmosphere.”
Consequently, she prays regularly for the bishops, McCarthy and diocesan staff, “because I have more insight into what they’re doing and the challenges they’re facing,” she said.
Gutierrez says his service has strengthened, “a calling to represent my community, to be more vocal and also provide solutions to the challenges my community faces within the diocese. I feel God has placed me there to be able to speak for those who perhaps don’t have a voice.”
Especially now, during the pandemic, “there is a lot of need, a lot of people searching for God. I feel there’s a lot of people like me out in Los Angeles that we can reach out to and show them, hey, look I’m a Mexican American and Episcopalian, and God has a place for you here too. I really feel that we can grow our diocese, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of introducing folks to Jesus in a different way.”