Bishop John Harvey Taylor closed out the final Diocesan Council meeting of 2020 with praise and thanksgiving for Southland congregations’ safe and reverent return to in-person worship, for upcoming “joyful, happy, colorful” Christmas celebrations, and anticipating engaging ministry next year.

The most recent Covid-19 challenges prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Dec. 6 stay at home order, mandated when regional ICU availability drops below 15% capacity. The order exempts church worship, which is only permitted outdoors and in adherence with government and diocesan restrictions, Taylor said.

When his council of advice, consisting of deans of each of the diocese’s ten geographic deaneries, learned of the latest order, “we gave considerable thought as to whether it was appropriate for us to get out ahead of the wave and ask diocesan institutions to stop in-person worship altogether,” Taylor said. “But the council’s and my feeling has always been that our churches are doing a magnificent job offering outdoor worship safely and reverently.”

During several recent in-person pastoral visitations, “I’ve seen four churches doing in-person worship in a wonderful, reverent way and each putting safety first,” he said.

Christmas celebrations; a holiday for clergy

As Christmas rapidly approaches, both Taylor and Bishop Suffragan Diane M. Jardine Bruce are offering a day off for clergy by officiating at worship for the entire diocesan community.

Bruce will lead a 10 a.m. multilingual Christmas Day Lessons and Carols service, offered in Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog and English. It will feature music from many of the ten diocesan deaneries and a 29-image slide show of Bruce’s creches from around the world.

On Sunday, Dec. 27, Taylor will preside at a 10 a.m. service of Morning Prayer. Both services will be livestreamed on the diocesan website and Facebook page.

New year, new conversation, commitment about giving

Twin financial challenges will prompt a 2021 renewed conversation about mission share fund assessments and creation of an endowment through the capital campaign, Taylor said.

Even with fewer expenses because of the pandemic, the Rev. Michele Racusin, chief financial officer, reported that reduced mission share fund revenues continue as a major diocesan budgetary challenge. “We bill $348,000 a month and we’re collecting, on average, $316,000 per month,” she told council. Year to date losses totaled $837,000, she said. “If we can get these revenue numbers pushed up, we will have a stronger start at 2021.”

Congregations should consider making payments to the diocese via bank transfers, through the use of automated clearing house or ACH, rather than mailing physical checks because of increased theft, Racusin said. “We’re suggesting this because, as the pandemic has carried on and as economic woes have hit people, we’re finding more and more checks are being intercepted.”

About 40% of diocesan accounts receivables in November represented congregations that had not fully paid their pledge for over three months, up from 30% in October, a trend that needs to be reversed, she said.

While mission share fund (MSF) missionaries have held encouraging conversations with some churches, Taylor said a conversation is needed, “rooted in the understanding that our obligations to members of our diocesan family are not discretionary but mandatory.”

Additionally, the capital campaign will increasingly be a focus in 2021, along with efforts to build an endowment. “These funds will be invested and maintained and safeguarded in perpetuity,” Taylor said.

In other business

The Rev. Antonio Gallardo reported that directors of the Corporation of the Diocese, at a special Nov. 12 meeting, unanimously approved the 2021 MSF budget and approved four emergency appeal grants. By email vote the following day, they accepted an offer for purchase of a property owned by the diocese, located across Laguna Avenue from St. Paul’s Commons.

Convention reports

Canon Steve Nishibayashi said he and convention coordinator Samantha Wylie have taken diocesan convention feedback “to heart” as plans for the Nov. 12 – 13, 2021 gathering are already underway. It is not clear whether it will be virtual or in-person.

The 2020 bishops’ reports, the virtual choir performance and the sermon from guest preacher, the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation and Creation care, may be viewed here.

The ministry and administrative workshops, typically offered on convention’s first day, will instead be held at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday and second Saturday of each month in a series titled “Servants of the Spirit: Gifts for Ministry,” according to Wylie. For more information or to register, click here.

Nishibayashi said the 2019 audits are due. Parochial report forms have been revised to allow for “narrative conversations about how each of the individual congregations have responded to and experienced enriched and enlarged ministries as a result of the pandemic.” More information about the revised forms may be found here.

General Convention has been postponed until 2022, with the date and place yet to be determined, Thomas Diaz of the diocese’s deputation reported. A Nov. 21 virtual meeting drew about 75 deputies from across California, he said. The meeting focused on three critical issues: racism and difference; the church, during and after Covid-19, and Prayer Book revision.

Episcopal Church Women, United Thank Offering grants available

The ECW is seeking representatives from each of the ten diocesan geographic deaneries, according to Christine Budzowski, diocesan president. The group hopes to expand communication to understand how ECW may be of support and service to the deaneries.

The 2021 United Thank Offering grant application materials are now available. The focus is Recovering with Love and Gratitude: An Episcopal Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in Local Contexts. The deadline for submission of applications along with supporting documents for the first round of grants is 5 p.m. Eastern time, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

Reports of Mission

In addition to several recent Advent-related and other celebrations hosted by diocesan Program Hispanic/Latinx, Black and Pacific Islander and Asian American ministries, Bruce said the New Community ministries are seeking ways to gather along with the diocesan community.

Plans are also underway to create virtual courses offered through both the Li Tim Oi Center and the Instituto de Liderazgo.

On Saturday, Jan. 16, at 4 p.m., the annual diocesan Martin Luther King celebration will be held virtually, and feature the Rev. Gail Fisher Stewart, a former Washington, D.C. police captain, as guest preacher. (See the Episcopal News Update for more information.)

A year-round stewardship strategy, formed in collaboration with TENS (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship), will be unveiled in 2021, Bruce said.

Collaborative community policing

A task force to explore local community policing and safety has begun meeting, Taylor said. Created in response to The Episcopal Church Executive Council resolutions on police violence and community safety alternatives, the group consists of representatives of law enforcement, chaplains, activists, the court system, and criminal justice reform experts.

“We are aiming for a Gospel-based vision of policing and community safety, articulated in a way that invites every one of our diocesan institutions, especially churches, but also schools and their institutions to be in conversation and relationship with neighborhoods regarding how experiencing local policing and law enforcement so that their challenges can be better understood in this very, very complex setting,” said Taylor.

Council will meet next at 4 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2021.