Members of Diocesan Council gather on April 11 via Zoom. Note: not all those in attendance are pictured. Photo: Screenshot

[The Episcopal News] In the current climate, where some 484 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are proposed across the nation and local school boards are increasingly becoming culture war battlegrounds, the Program Group on LGBTQ+ Ministry – besides serving as a resource for the diocese and wider Episcopal church – aims to focus on advocacy, training and encouraging congregations to create safe spaces for community.

“Creating safe spaces for queer people is a lot more than just flying the Pride flag and saying you’re open and affirming,” the Very Rev. Christopher Montella, program group co-chair, reported to the April 11 online meeting of Diocesan Council. “There is real meaningful work the community needs to do to make spaces that are safe and affirming for queer people, especially those who have had church and God and the Bible weaponized against them.”

Last year, he said, “many of us found ourselves in the position of showing up at a slew of school board meetings, and we learned that people need training on how to show up at those. It could be potentially dangerous for someone who’s not quite prepared to just show up at one of these meetings and have to face an angry crowd, as happened a couple of times.”

Look for such training sessions in the fall, Montella told the council, adding it is critically important for church members to engage such issues within their local communities. The first LGBTQ+ ministry was convened in the diocese in 1992 as an educational and advocacy ministry under the leadership of the Rev. Mac Thigpen.

Christopher Montella, rector of St. Stephen’s Church, Santa Clarita, and dean of Deanery 2, reports on the work of the Program Group on LGBtQ+ Ministries, which he serves as co-chair. Photo: Screenshot

This year’s Pride theme is “Love in Action Always Wins,” echoing the 2023 diocesan convention theme; the group will also offer local communities support with banners and other promotional Pride materials, as well as financial support. “We are in the process of creating a process for local groups to request financial support from us,” he said.

Montella intends to turn leadership over to Thomas Diaz, co-chair, after the program group’s annual garden party fundraiser at the Bishop’s Residence, planned for 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 2. He will remain active in the group, added Montella, who is dean of Deanery 2.

Bishop John Harvey Taylor also noted the ongoing “injurious” climate to the LGBTQ+ community, citing an April 8 commentary on his blog, which grieved “what the Vatican said recently that is so injurious to our trans siblings, and the comments about the Vatican’s position on surrogacy.”

Taylor also renewed a request for congregations to share members’ email addresses with The Episcopal News. “We have 10,000 addresses now; we want to have 20,000 by the end of next year.” (Lists may be sent to

Financial report

Canon Andy Tomat, diocesan treasurer, reported total mission share fund or MSF income in February of $410,902, roughly the amount budgeted. Additionally, unpaid MSF commitments from 2023 and prior years were reduced to $848,045 from $903,138 in December 2023, he said.

At the end of March, 35 of 90 parishes had signed assessment commitment forms at the mandated 12%, while another 21 had agreed but had not yet submitted the forms, he said. Parishes are required to pay 12% of normal operating income (determined by their parochial reports from two years prior), while mission congregations are assessed at 10% of plate and pledge income, plus 5% in additional charges. The remaining 34 parishes have not yet responded.

The Assessment Review Committee, chaired by the Rev. Rachel Nyback, is considering 11 requests for assessment waivers, and is expected to report its findings at the May 9 meeting of Diocesan Council.

“In total, the diocese is running at or near break-even, with thanks to those who have stepped up to the challenge of the 12% assessment,” Tomat reported.

Other reports of ministry and mission

The Corporation of the Diocese and the Standing Committee both approved the sale of a 1.8-acre vacant lot in Yucca Valley for $10,000; one of seven properties the diocesan real estate task force has recommended be sold. Additionally, the Standing Committee also consented to the Feb. 24 election of Kara Wagner Sherer as ninth bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, New York.

The committee also approved for June 8, 2024 ordination to the diaconate: Karen James (Church of the Epiphany, Oak Park), Margaret Stivers (St. Richard of Chichester, Lake Arrowhead), Michael Mischler (St. James’ Church, South Pasadena), and Hart Roussel (St. Andrew’s Church, Fullerton).

81st General Convention; ECW Triennial; Diocesan Convention

The Los Angeles diocese will send four delegates to the 51st Episcopal Church Women Triennial gathering, themed “Empowering Women of Faith,” which is held concurrently with the 81st General Convention, June 22 – 28 in Louisville, Kentucky, according to diocesan ECW President Christine Budzowski. In addition to Budzowski, delegates include past president Canon Martha Estes; Kimberly Cortner (Daughters of the King); and Tammy Smecker Haynes (United Thank Offering).

General Convention legislative committee hearings are already underway, according to Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy, who leads the Los Angeles deputation and has been assigned to the Dispatch of Business Committee. Committee members determine when proposed legislation will be voted on by the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies and what legislation will be included as part of a consent calendar.

In addition to McCarthy, there are three clergy deputies and four clergy alternate deputies, including: the Rev. Antonio Gallardo, rector of St. Luke’s Church in Long Beach, a member of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Next Presiding Bishop; the Rev. Fennie Chang, vicar of St. Thomas’ Church in Hacienda Heights, who is assigned to the World Mission Committee; and the Rev. Rachel Nyback, rector of St. Cross Church in Hermosa Beach, who serves on the Title IV committee, which focuses on disciplinary canons of the church.

First clergy alternate deputy is the Rev. Canon Kelli Grace Kurtz, rector of All Saints Church in Riverside. Other alternate clergy deputies include: the Rev. Guy Leemhuis, vicar of St. Luke’s of the Mountains Church in La Crescenta, who has been assigned to the Certification of Minutes Committee; the Rev. Dominque Piper, deacon at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia; and the Rev. Canon Ian Davies, rector of St. Thomas’ Church in Hollywood.

Lay deputies include: Kathryn Nishibayashi, who has been assigned to the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee; Diocesan Treasurer Canon Andy Tomat; Thomas Diaz, who also is on the presiding bishop nominating committee; and Alan Herendich. Cameron Johnson, who co-chairs the diocesan Commission on Ministry, is the lay alternate deputy.

Taylor serves as vice chair for bishops on the Social Justice and International Relations Committee, which will consider such issues as Israel-Palestine. Co-chair of that committee is Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutierrez, one of the candidates to succeed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

On April 2, the presiding bishop nominating committee – co-chaired by Canon Steven Nishibayashi, who is also secretary of convention for the Diocese of Los Angeles – presented a slate of four candidates. In addition to Gutierrez, they are: Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, Bishop Sean Rowe of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York. A fifth nominee, Bishop DeDe Duncan Probe of Central New York, was added to the slate by petition on April 16.

Taylor reported that he plans to attend an April 24 special House of Bishops meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend a day with the candidates.

Of the election process, McCarthy explained, “The House of Bishops actually elects the next presiding bishop, and the House of Deputies ratifies the election.” She added that anyone can attend legislative committee hearings and track the progress of proposed legislation via the convention’s “virtual binder.”

Locally, planning is already underway for the Nov. 8 – 9 Diocesan Convention, to be held in Riverside, council secretary Samantha Wiley reported.

She noted that 38 of the 128 reporting parishes and missions in the diocese have yet to file a parochial report, which was due March 1. Parochial reports offer insight into the life, ministry, finances, and membership of The Episcopal Church. For example, the number of delegates a congregation is assigned for diocesan convention is determined by the number of members the church lists on the report. Congregations may still file their report through her office, Wiley said.

In other reports of ministry:

ECW/DOK: Budzowski also reported that the May 4 DOK Spring Assembly, themed “Listening for God’s Call,” will be offered online and will feature the Rev. Canon Victoria Hatch, the first woman ordained in the Los Angeles diocese in a discussion to be moderated by the Rev. Canon Pat McCaughan. ECW’s online Wisdom Circles, which began two months ago, are slowly growing. Meetings are at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. All are welcome to both events; for the Zoom links, email Budzowski at

Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change: The commission’s disaster resiliency program continues with a second cohort of diocesan congregations, who are preparing for resiliency and disaster response plans, according to Canon for Common Life Bob Williams. The second cohort is chaired by the Rev. Brian Tucker, assisting priest at Prince of Peace Church in Woodland Hills.

The Bishop’s Commission on Gospel Justice and Community, formed in the spring of 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd, is seeking a new convenor, Taylor said. The current chair, Sister Patricia Sarah Terry, has relocated to the East Coast. The commission, which usually meets monthly, has focused efforts on offering Mental Health First Aid classes and continued advocacy for resources so law enforcement may offer an unarmed, well-trained response to situations where people are manifesting symptoms of mental health distress, “particularly young men of color, who are particularly vulnerable when there is an armed response,” he said.

The commission hopes to participate in the election process for the Los Angeles District Attorney, seeking to pose questions to the two leading candidates, incumbent George Gascón, and challenger Nathan Hochman, Taylor said.

Reports of mission

McCarthy also reported that Camp Stevens Executive Director Kathy Wilder will serve as keynote speaker for the upcoming May 6 – 8 clergy conference, to be held in Riverside. Wilder, who holds a doctorate in education and organizational leadership with an emphasis on employee resiliency in small nonprofit organizations, will focus on equipping clergy for leadership.

Wilder and McCarthy have also been working on a strategic plan for the camp, “both in terms of costs as well as numbers of people visiting the camp … to do some planning for the future … so please keep Camp Stevens in your prayers,” McCarthy said.

Taylor commended The False White Gospel: Rejecting Christian Nationalism, Reclaiming True Faith, and Refounding Democracy, the recently released New York Times and USA Today bestseller by Sojourners Founder Jim Wallis.

Taylor, who was invited to moderate an April 12 discussion with Wallis at St. John’s Cathedral, said the book, “calls us to understand we are part of what sounds like a new Reformation … to re-embrace the reality of Christ’s teaching.

Wallis “also believes we have a role in the simultaneous battle to make sure that darkness and authoritarianism do not overcome the multicultural future of representative democracy in our country,” Taylor said.

Council meets next at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 9 via Zoom.