Diocesan CFO Michele Racusin (pictured at lower right) shares information regarding congregations’ pledges to the Mission Share Fund during the Jan. 14 meeting of Diocesan Council. Screenshot photo

The Rev. Michele Racusin, diocesan chief financial officer, assigned “homework” to new and continuing diocesan council members at the group’s first meeting of 2021, held virtually on Thursday, Jan. 14.

“Go back to your parishes in your deaneries and say, ‘hey, have you turned in your mission share fund (MSF) pledge statement?’ Because we need that. This is what funds our mission congregations here in the diocese.”

So far in the new year, “we have an alarmingly small number of parish pledges in,” according to Bishop John Harvey Taylor. “We know it’s tough and we know that churches are in discernment and are having annual meetings and waiting to see what their local process determines. Yet, the time is going to be upon us when we’re going to be looking carefully at that $4 million.”

The diocese has received 17 pledges totaling $440,000 thus far, Racusin said.

The $4 million represents a diocesan budget “stripped down as much as we could, without annihilating some of the programs,” from the previous year’s $4.6 million budget.

Canonically, parishes are expected to pay 12-15% of their annual operating budgets and while mission churches are required to give 10% of their plate and pledge income in MSF contributions, which fund the ministries of many of the diocese’s 38 mission and four mission center congregations.

Racusin said the giving rate among diocesan parishes ranges between 2 and 15%.

Those mission congregations “by and large are in neighborhoods and communities that are less well-resourced and are less privileged,” Taylor said. “It is the responsibility of a diocesan family to make its first priority the care for those who that don’t have same privilege and capacity others do.”

Without meeting the budget objectives, there simply will not be the resources available to aid such congregations, who engage in diverse, vital and creative ministries. “We’ve got a lot riding on this, my fellow pilgrims,” Taylor said.

Additionally, the diocese pledges 15% of its annual budget to The Episcopal Church and “we are very, very rigorous about paying our fair share … and we will not falter from that,” Racusin said.

In 2020, the diocese expected to receive $4.1 million but instead collected only $3.8 million in revenue, a continuing shortfall of $332,000. And while the CARES Act Payroll Protection Plan offset a current $1 million loss, the diocese is still “hoping to collect old receivables,” Racusin said. “We’re hoping people will stay current from the beginning of the year forward … we want to be able to collect everything we bill every month.”

If every parish paid 12% of its annual operating budget, total revenues would amount to $5.2 million. “You can see how our budget gap would be completely closed,” she said.

Taylor said receiving the $4 million “is absolutely crucial to the way this budget is written and as a new foundation for what we need to build toward over the next two to three years, as we move forward with the capital campaign while bringing MSF giving up to a higher level, talking about ways to make sure churches meet their canonical requirement.”

A conversation about shifting from the current pledge system to an assessments approach to MSF giving will probably occur in 2021, Taylor added. But first, “there will be appropriate listening, learning, consultation and conversation with the diocesan community.”

“We know that it’s sometimes hard for parishes to meet all of the challenges they have in their budgets,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to do it blithely and without sensitivity, but we do need to have the conversation for the sake of being able to continue to do what we saw in the pared-down budget, which includes $1.1 million in support of our mission churches.”

Racusin said any congregations with questions may contact her at finance@ladiocese.org.

In other council business:

  • Dan Valdez, a member of the Bishop’s Task Force on Budget and Finance, reported that MSF missionaries “have had some successes in getting folks to pay down some of their arrears,” and are working with others. A subcommittee is forming, to find ways “to get the institutional church out of the way of our church’s mission, Valdez added. A real estate task force is also eager “to get more deeply involved in the work of helping to finance churches, activities, focusing on non-sacred properties throughout the diocese and beyond, wherever the diocese owns property.” Members are also examining what might be future needs or possibilities for that property, including liquidation with the proceeds placed in the diocesan endowment fund.
  • The Corporation of the Diocese and the Standing Committee approved an extended line of credit for St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano and a St. John’s Cathedral campus project.
  • The Rev. Kay Sylvester, rector of St. Paul’s, Tustin, was elected for another term as president and the Rev. Dan Justin, rector, St. Michael and All Angels, Studio City, was elected as secretary of the Standing Committee.
  • Christine Budzowski described the Church Periodical Club’s ministry as raising funds “to purchase books, video and taped materials for any church or church-related organization” that requests such help, including for Sunday school, youth and Junior Daughters of the King programs. Stay tuned for information about the group’s upcoming triannual quilt raffle.
  • Secretary of Convention Canon Steve Nishibayashi said parochial reports are due, as are church audits and convention delegate information updates. Appropriate forms may be obtained here.
  • Samantha Wylie, convention coordinator, reminded members to check the diocesan convention website for upcoming Ministry Fair “Servants of the Spirit” workshops, held twice monthly.
  • Bishop Suffragan Diane M. Jardine Bruce said planning for programming from the New Community and Stewardship ministries is underway, especially a Feb. 13 workshop about zero-based and narrative budgeting.
  • The diocese also is collecting Covid-19 liturgical resources for lay and ordained leaders, and planning a website memorial page for coronavirus victims, according to Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy. Planning is underway to create a supportive gathering space for chaplains serving heroically under extreme conditions, often with zero percent capacity, in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County hospitals.
  • A Jan. 26 meeting for a newly constituted safety and policing task force is set to begin “to develop a Gospel-based way of thinking about community safety and apportionment of resources that come from taxpayers to ensure safety security and just treatment of all the people in our neighborhood,” Taylor said.
  • Citing the recent insurrection by a violent mob in Washington, D.C., invites consideration of how to be in conversation with one another about the values that are important, Taylor said. “The first one is peace and turning away from any temptation to use violent deeds or violent words to accomplish the ends we have.”

Diocesan council is scheduled to meet next at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11.