Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on Feb. 9. Photo: Screenshot

[The Episcopal News] Bishop John Harvey Taylor began the Feb. 9, 2023, meeting of Diocesan Council with prayers and a moment of silence for the people of Turkey and Syria, where 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes had struck three days earlier, killing more than 35,000 with the death toll expected to continue to climb.

Taylor prayed for those who have died, “the thousands more still buried, thousands more injured, tens of thousands more who have lost homes and businesses and the means of caring for themselves and those whom they love.”

Whenever “the scale of loss is as staggering as this, it is sometimes tempting to avert our eyes. This is the paradox of being human,” added Taylor, encouraging prayers and long-term support for victims via UNICEF and Episcopal Relief & Development, The Episcopal Church’s disaster relief agency.

“Gracious God, send your angels to remind us that the urgent time for those such as us is not the moment when the disaster occurs when those trained rush to help, rush to save, but in the long weeks and months after, during the recovery time … when attention fades, when the support of the generous people in our diocese and around the world will be most needed.”

For those wishing to offer aid, visit the Episcopal Relief & Development webpage.

New program group; Climate Change Commission seeks volunteers

Council Secretary Samantha Wylie announced creation of a new program group on compensation, as mandated in a resolution approved by delegates to the 127th annual meeting of the diocese, Nov. 11-12, 2022 at the Riverside Convention Center.

Wylie asked for volunteers for the program group. Program groups of Diocesan Council exist to help the bishop and his staff formulate and carry out plans and programs approved by Diocesan Convention. This will be the council’s 11th program group; others include: Communications and Public Affairs; Ecumenical and Interreligious Life; GLEAM: LGBTQ Ministry; Global Partnership; Mission Congregations; New Community; Social Justice (includes Prism, IRIS and Sacred Resistance); Stewardship and Financial Sustainability; Youth and Young Adult Ministries; and Wellness (includes AIDS/HIV, Recovery, Accessibilities, Mental Health and Parish Nurses).

Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy also reported that the Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change has taken up the work of two other resolutions passed at the 2022 convention, including adoption of guidelines for environmental reformation of the diocese and another to engage the Episcopal Covenant to Care of Creation.

The Commission on Climate Change has created subcommittees to engage: Disaster Resiliency; Solar Panels; Advocacy; Education and Resolutions. Eight churches are involved in a pilot program with the Lucy Jones Center, funded by Southern California Edison, to connect congregations to each other and with their communities in the event of disaster concerning climate-related issues like extreme heat, or flooding, McCarthy said.

A town hall meeting and a series of educational offerings are planned for the spring, added McCarthy, who also requested volunteers to assist the commission’s work and keep council members informed.

Christine Budzowski, president of the diocesan Episcopal Church Women, was among the six who volunteered for the climate change commission, adding: “I would like to look into ways that ECW as an organization could collaborate on the educational aspects of the work that the commission is doing.”

Financial report

Diocesan Treasurer Canon Andy Tomat submitted a written financial report to council indicating that income from all sources in 2022 totaled $9.3 million, about $471,221 or 5% less than planned. The diocese ended the year with an overall deficit of $331,981.

The $9.8 million 2022 budget had included $4.25 million in anticipated mission share fund income from churches. About $4.113 million was received, only 3% less than planned. The report also noted about $1 million in uncollected MSF commitments from 2022 and prior years.

The MSF portion of the budget was joined by $5 million in income from Corporation of the Diocese, funds primarily generated from a combination of government and private grants, mostly for the diocese’s IRIS (refugee/immigration) and Seeds of Hope ministries, and from the sale of non-sacred real estate property and restricted funds.

Tomat reported that IRIS received $515,971 or 29% more grant income than expected; while Seeds of Hope received $151,319, about 17% less than anticipated.

About $434,377 in Corporation of the Diocese savings, including proceeds from the sale of non-sacred real estate, was used to offset the cost of the capital campaign, which was 35% less than planned he said. Total expenses for the year were $9.7 million, or $139,269 under budget.

Other reports of interest

Standing Committee: At its Jan. 25 meeting, the Standing Committee affirmed consent of the election of the Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton as bishop provisional for the Diocese of Olympia, the Rev. Lester Mackenzie reported. Consent was required because Skelton, currently serving as assisting bishop in Olympia, originally was consecrated Archbishop of The Anglican Church of Canada for British Columbia and Yukon.

The Standing Committee also consented to the election of the Rev. Justin Holcomb as bishop of Central Florida. The committee meets next on Feb. 28 at St. Paul’s Commons.

Program Group on Mission Congregations: The Very Rev. Gary Hall reported that the Program Group on Mission Congregations met Feb. 2 and discussed development of governance models for mission centers that may or may not have a worship component, “but are more missional than congregational places.”

The group is also considering how to support and to fund new church plants in underserved communities, and to develop criteria” to apply to a shrinking pool of money and to expand pool of needs in the mission development grant fund.

Hall renewed a previous request for deanery representatives to PGMC from each of the diocese’s ten geographic deaneries.

Diocesan Convention: Canon Steve Nishibayashi reminded congregations to update their information about delegates to the Nov. 10-11, diocesan convention in Riverside, via the convention website.

Parochial reports: The portal to file parochial reports to The Episcopal Church electronically opens March 1. Information about the portal may be obtained through the diocesan convention office. Planning is underway for the Nov. 10 – 11 annual gathering at the Riverside Convention Center.

McCarthy also reported that she and Wylie are reviewing parochial reports from the previous five years “as we start to do a deep dive into what is sustainability is going to look like in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles of LA in the next 25 to 50 years.” Many churches reported that average Sunday attendance declined by about 50% from 2018 to 2021, she said.

The bishop’s report

Taylor reported feedback from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry after his Jan. 13 – 15 visit to the diocese. Curry said that “he felt Los Angeles was a place where hope is alive,” said Taylor. “There’s a lot of discouragement in our church, with good reason – we’re not typical United States Christians; we’re Episcopalians. We don’t fit the mold. We’re not following the business plan. It can be hard sometimes.

“We might even think it’s our fault. But, thanks to all of you and all the people that he encountered in five events in three days, he came away feeling that Los Angeles was just on fire with the spirit.”

Taylor also noted several other matters:

1. Bloy House Lenten Program: Taylor invited participation in an upcoming interactive, contemplative program offered by Bloy House: “The Spiritual Journey: A Lenten Exploration” on Tuesdays in March, 7 – 8:30 p.m. “One of the ways we keep hope alive in anticipation of Easter is doing our quieter, more contemplative work in Lent,” Taylor said. The fee is $25.

2. Increasing Episcopal News subscribers: Taylor aims to increase the number of subscribers to the weekly Episcopal News Update from the current 8,000 to 20,000 this year, he said. Churches are sometimes reluctant to share the email addresses without checking with congregants first, which makes the process complicated, Taylor said.

“My preference would be [churches] would just send us the addresses and in the unlikely event that the recipient doesn’t like the content we can always let them unsubscribe, but we’re not selling auto detailing services. We’re telling folks about pastoral letters and what’s going on in the diocese” and sharing reporting about events, he said.

Currently, about 50% of subscribers open diocesan emails, “which is pretty good … but the downside of that is, if we’ve only got 8,000 addresses, that’s only 4,000 readers, ten percent of our diocesan community,” Taylor said. Which means the good news of the diocese is not reaching all of the diocese. “We need to shine the light and the way to shine the light in a digital era is to be able to get good quality journalism directly to people’s email boxes.”

3. Affordable Housing: Taylor reiterated a commitment to build affordable permanent supportive housing on up to 25% of diocesan church campuses. “Two are under construction, another one is about to begin and there are ten more on the drawing board. That’s 20 to go,” he said.

But diocesan structural changes are needed, he said, including the addition of a development office to help raise funds and facilitate the capital campaign, and creation of a staff position to oversee housing projects.

“We’re doing a capital campaign; we have an annual fund which is up to one-quarter million dollars raised in a year, an annual bishop’s dinner – all being done by volunteer labor or passed around the offices at St. Paul’s Commons. We’ll have raised well over a million dollars without having an advancement department just in the last year or so.”

Other news of interest

Inaugural Shepherd’s Club Golf Classic and Dinner Capital Campaign Fundraiser: Wylie invited participation of the diocesan community in the inaugural Shepherd’s Cup Golf Classic and Dinner on April 24 at the Industry Hills Golf Club and Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry.

“We are looking for a foursome from every congregation in the diocese … and we are looking for sponsorship opportunities,” she said. Early bird pricing ends March 1.

Absalom Jones services: Canon for Common Life Bob Williams reminded everyone about the 3 p.m., Feb. 19 service commemorating Absalom Jones at St. Stephen’s Church in Beaumont.

Credit Union update: Dan Valdez, a financial services professional and board chair of the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union, reported a board reorganization with the following officers: Jennifer Miramontes, vice chair; Anilin Collado, secretary; and Lou Duncan, treasurer.

After testing and training, “the virtual banking platform will be live by the end of month,” Valdez said. “We will soon be rolling out the Episcopal Credit Union app for your phones. We will be able to do mobile banking, Zelle [a money transfer service] is coming on board, Apple Pay is already there. We are moving into a space where we will be able to compete with all of the major banks in the country. I’m very excited that it will lead our growth into our second 30 years after we celebrate our 30th anniversary next year.”

Council meets again via Zoom at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 9. Reports from New Community ministries and program groups will be included in the agenda.