Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on April 15. Photo: Screenshot

Los Angeles Diocesan Bishop John Harvey Taylor wants congregations to know that “Bishop [Diane M. Jardine] Bruce and I are open for business during the week,” including official visitations, baptisms, confirmations, receptions, and reaffirmations, meeting with vestries and bishop’s committees, even special events.

“Bishops get scheduled two years in advance on Sundays,” Taylor said at the April 15 regular meeting of Diocesan Council. “But, if you’ve got a Wednesday, Thursday, or Saturday open, consider having Bishop Bruce, Canon McCarthy, or me come visit, particularly when the schedule has been thrown off by COVID.

“Last week, it was Redlands,” Taylor said, “where the Rev. Paul Price and his colleagues at Trinity had me out for a wonderful confirmation service where, even with quarantine restrictions, the wonderful Trinity music program was on display.”

Taylor also announced that he will travel soon to the Holy Land, to represent the Diocese of Los Angeles at the May 13 installation of the Rt. Rev. Hosam Naoum, as the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, a companion partner diocese.

As part of a group of bishops who are crafting a letter about the Holy City of Jerusalem, Taylor said, “I am looking forward to asking him [Naoum] on behalf of all of us what Episcopalians in the Diocese of Jerusalem need to hear from The Episcopal Church that will be most helpful to them.”

The Jerusalem diocese was also cited by Kim Ericson in a report to council from the Program Group on Global Partnership (PGGP).

PGGP and other program groups typically report yearly about their activities to council. Through a grant, the PGGP, which aims to deepen the mission of the church and diocese in the world, through accompaniment with overseas partners, “paid the full cost of education, room and board and therapy for five students,” at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Jordan, she said.

Other assistance jump-started a renovation project at the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center in Ramallah, which had stalled because of the pandemic.

“They were in the middle of a guest house renovation. As a result of … [the donation] they were able to expand the guest house by 11 rooms. Proceeds of the guest house fund 30% of the scholarships for students at the school,” Ericson said.

PGGP also assisted in setting up an electronic learning center at the Bishop Okullu College, an Anglican institution of higher learning and theological training in Asembo Bay, near Lake Victoria in Kenya. Additionally, the PGGP has also helped monitor and interact with the physical therapy program in Eldoret, Kenya, organized by the late Canon Percia Hutcherson, a long-time medical missionary and member of Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Los Angeles.

“There is an endowment fund that provides ongoing income for physical therapy for children there,” Ericson said.

Financial matters: church MSF commitments increase; so does insurance

Canon Andy Tomat, diocesan treasurer, reported that 42 of 92 parishes have submitted 2021 mission share fund (MSF) forms. “In total, commitments from parishes have increased $49,067 over 2020 (which were made pre-COVID), so we greatly appreciate the increased commitment so many of our parishes have made to the diocese and our missions in these challenging times,” Tomat told council members.

Additionally, churches who had missed MSF payments previously are resuming payments, Tomat said. “This has enabled MSF income to return to normal pre-COVID levels in February, allowing us to get back to our budgeted income rate. Expenses are running under budgeted levels due to the staff vacancies in the finance office as well as reduced travel and office expenses.”

While mission congregations are required to commit 10% of their annual plate and pledge income, parishes are canonically expected to commit between 12-15%. Tomat encouraged parishes who have not submitted 2021 MSF commitments to do so.

Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy said “amazing” candidates for the vacant finance director and comptroller positions have been interviewed. “We are doing second rounds of interviews for about four candidates and are hopeful to have someone in place very soon,” she said.

Tomat also reported a 15% increase for church property and casualty annual insurance premiums with HUB/Guide One. “Unfortunately, we recognize this is a significant added burden in this year, but we do want to remind mission congregations that this comes after several years of premium decreases,” he said.

Still, the insurance premium increases are well below industry averages, Tomat said. “For properties such as ours, annual increases are in the 5-20% range and those in a fire zone are increasing 15-60%. We have four wildfire-prone properties such as Camp Stevens, which had large increases in 2020.”

The increase was also driven by “the relatively low $1,000 deductible, which our carrier is proposing to increase to $2,500 or $5,000 in the future. We are considering this but recognize that such a high deductible could be more than our smaller missions could bear. We will be getting proposals from other insurers at our next renewal.”

Adaptive leadership

The Rev. Antonio Gallardo, vicar of St. Luke’s, La Crescenta, reported the Corporation of the Diocese forwarded to the Standing Committee a request for the sale of the rectory of St. Clement by-the-Sea Church in San Clemente. (The Standing Committee has delayed approval of this sale pending a current study of endowment policy.) The corporation is also shifting its focus to “more strategic oversight and less day-to-day detail” in response to changing environments. “We are hoping to find new ways to support parishes,” he said.

Taylor added that the re-envisioning imagines the corporation as “an active partner with all of our institutions, anticipating their problems and fulfilling their needs, and helping them feel less isolated by the anxieties of attendance and finance.”

Similar accessibility is envisioned as the finance department transitions to new leadership, Taylor said. “The finance department is, first of all, a place to empower ministry and solve problems quickly. We take that to heart.”

McCarthy said she is working with Gallardo and the Rev. Kay Sylvester, president of the Standing Committee, on a church futures subcommittee, “developing a process to review and create and implement different models for how we do church … given the ever-shrinking resources and more churches needing more and more help.”

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, interim Bloy House dean and the Standing Committee representative to council, said a policy is under consideration regarding the possibility of requiring congregations to permanently restrict funds from sales of property.

The committee also approved for candidacy for Holy Orders: Julie Beals, from St. James, South Pasadena; Katherine Feng, Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel; Guy Leemhuis, Holy Faith, Inglewood, and Joshua Paget, All Saints’, Beverly Hills.

The Program Group on Mission Congregations (PGMC) has begun considering the process it will undertake to approve grants for mission congregations, according to the Rev. Canon Kelli-Grace Kurtz, chair.

The PGMC hopes to hear stories of mission and ministry from congregations, said Kurtz, rector of All Saints Church in Riverside. “We are very much aware that we’re standing in the breech because our mission congregations are some of the hardest hit congregations throughout this pandemic.

“We also realize that diocesan funding and resources have been hard hit, and there’s a delicate balance between advocating for mission congregations and being realistic about how the financial resources of the diocese can be of help to mission congregations.”

Convention: Truth and Love; virtual workshops

Canon Steve Nishibayashi, secretary of convention, reported that 69 of 128 congregations have submitted and verified 2020 parochial reports. He encouraged all churches to file their reports and to update their convention delegate information. Planning for the November 12-13 “Truth and Love”-themed convention is taking into consideration possibilities for in-person, online and a hybrid gathering. “There will be a diocesan-wide convention Eucharist the following Sunday” (Nov. 14), he said.

The diocese’s ongoing “Servants of the Spirit–Gifts for Ministry” virtual workshop series continues with “Your Church History and Archives” on Wednesday, May 5 at 7 p.m., led by Bob Williams, canon for Common Life, and Kip Martin of Guide One Senior Risk Control, who will offer a presentation on recordkeeping.

On Saturday, May 15, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Jack Rutledge, vice president of Client Services for Church Insurance Agency, will lead a virtual workshop on “Cyber Risk Insurance.”

The next meeting of Diocesan Council is scheduled for 4 p.m. on May 20 via Zoom.