While business, real estate or legal experience may be helpful for members of the Corporation of the Diocese, the group also weighs “compassion, understanding, seeking for justice and good, with solid business policies, what’s good financially and good stewardship,” says Ravi Verma, a three-term director.
“That’s a priority, that while we deal with financial, legal, and corporate responsibilities, we do it from the midst of our faith,” added Verma, who holds both a master’s degree in business administration and serves as program director for Stillpoint, an institution of the diocese that trains spiritual directors.
The Corporation of the Diocese is a diocesan governing body, consisting of nine directors. Eight are elected by diocesan convention; a ninth position is appointed by the Bishop Diocesan, who serves as the president of the corporation.
The group, which meets online monthly, oversees funds for use in supporting the needs and ministry of the diocese. Often, directors deliberate about real estate sales, church building programs and other property issues, consider grant requests and, more recently, have drafted policies for the capital campaign and the endowment fund.
“Finances are sometimes seen as separate from faith, but we all know the budget is a deeply faith-based document, a guiding principle,” said Verma, 67, a parishioner at All Saints Church in Pasadena. “We see how hard the diocesan staff and the bishops work and we experience that joint desire to serve God, to do the best possible for the people in the diocese. That motivation gives me strength.”
In 2019, the Rev. Antonio Gallardo’s goal was to become a General Convention deputy, “to be part of change, to be where the decisions are made.” He didn’t believe he had time for much else — until someone nudged him in the direction of the Corporation of the Diocese.
Gallardo, 53, vicar of St. Luke’s Church in La Crescenta, won both elections, becoming a General Convention alternate clergy deputy and a Corporation director, a role that “has been such a great gift,” he said.
“I am so happy that person nudged me, and I listened,” he told The Episcopal News recently. “I have learned not to say no immediately, because it might be the Spirit working. I’m very happy because I’ve gotten to know how the church works, especially the diocese.”
For example, “When you go to convention and hear about the budget once a year, you hear in a couple of hours what is the work of many hours, and many days. Now, I understand better, the structure of the diocese, what the diocese does for all of us.”
Additionally, there are many valuable connections. “I’m at the table now where decisions are made, and I can speak on behalf of people like me, people with no voice. One of the things I appreciate about our bishops and Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy is, I feel safe speaking up.”
If a financial concern arises at his congregation, “I now know the chief financial officer, the Rev. Michele Racusin. Before, it was just a name out there. But now, because we have a working relationship, I pick up the phone and call her.”
Attorney Stephen Ensberg, 67, said he became interested in serving as a director while attending Bloy House because he wanted to use his gifts to make a difference in the church.
“I get a sense of satisfaction by, hopefully, constructively participating and bringing whatever experience I have … to contribute to the mission of the Episcopal Church and its outreach efforts and the management of its resources, to try to accomplish here on earth what Jesus wants us to do,” said Ensberg, who has also served on Diocesan Council.
“And, by trying to work our way through that process to make sure that the mission of the church remains first and foremost, while broadening the use of resources to allow people to use them,” he added.
The son of a Lutheran pastor who later became an Episcopal priest, he has been a general business, civil litigation, and real estate lawyer for 38 years. He attends both St. John’s Church in La Verne and Faith Lutheran Church in San Dimas.
Through Bloy House coursework, he learned “that sometimes I can help people reframe their problems in a bigger manner that allows them to look at circumstances and realize it’s more of a life [or] spiritual problem than a legal problem.”
Serving as a corporation director has been enriching and spiritually uplifting: “The Episcopal Church is working hard to develop its ability to expand its outreach of faith to different groups and individuals, and to be more hospitable and accommodating to different people and cultures,” Ensberg said.
“If you think of the life of the church daily, as a living entity, its goal is to communicate and reach out to people. The Corporation of the Diocese seeks to follow up and ensure that the material resources of the diocese are best positioned and utilized to accomplish that and to be a welcoming place for people to come closer in their walk with God.”
Reynolds Cafferata, 54, just finishing up a second three-year term on the corporation, said he derives inspiration from the group’s interactions with congregations. “We have lots of great, thriving parishes and people who are all excited about what’s happening at their parish.”
He added: “Working with Bishop Taylor has been wonderful this term. Our job is to deal with the temporal aspects of the diocese. Our discussions are moved by the spirit about very practical matters, like ‘is the rate of rent on this lease fair? Are the terms of this cell phone tower appropriate?’ As a lawyer that’s what my gift is. It’s important to me to share my gifts The Episcopal Church offers something great and I feel like I’m doing my little bit to help make sure it’s around for at least the next hundred years.”
Yet, many Southland Episcopalians miss seeing “all the good the church is doing at the diocesan level,” add Cafferata, a tax lawyer who works with nonprofit agencies. “The most satisfying thing is, the group of people that are involved with these different diocesan committees, are just amazing folks. They are really great people with incredible talents and gifts to share. It’s a joy. That’s what you find at the diocese.”
Gallardo agreed, adding that serving as a director has made him much more aware of the challenges of Southland congregations.
For example: “I know that 90% of the congregation in Anaheim works at Disney and lost their jobs. When I make decisions on the corporation, I am thinking about them,” he said. “They are in my prayers. I think about them and want to do something for them.”
He urged others to consider getting involved. “I like people not to be limited by language, knowledge, time, when being invited to be part of the councils of the church. This is our church. It is a gift and we can all participate. We can shape it together. Many of us limit ourselves from running for these offices because we think we don’t have what it takes, including time, talent. I invite people to try to see it differently.”