Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on July 13.

[The Episcopal News] Accounts of Filipino and Native American ministries of the diocese and announcement of a new leader of the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union highlighted the Diocesan Council meeting held on July 13 via Zoom.

Dan Valdez announced that the credit union’s board, which he chairs, has entered a shared employee agreement with a consortium of credit unions based in Southern California and as a result has hired Johnny Lee, vice president of Cal-Com Credit Union, as its new CEO. Lee will be at ECFCU on a 40% time basis. He will succeed Urla Gomes, who has led the credit union for nearly 29 years, and will be able to take her long-anticipated retirement as CEO and manager. “He is already on staff today, learning the ropes, picking Urla’s brain as best he can,” said Valdez.

Ministry to Native Americans

The Rev. Canon Mary Crist, who leads indigenous ministries in the diocese, reported that local efforts have focused since 2011 on the Talking Circle program, which mostly is funded by Episcopal Church grants totaling nearly $30,000 as well as diocesan funds.

“The purpose for that funding was to help us develop leadership among urban Native women,” Crist said, “who had become disconnected from their own tribal policies and practices because of relocation days, which took place in beginning in the late 50s, and continued into the 60s and even to the early 70s.” At that time, she explained, Native Americans were encouraged to leave their reservations for the cities, where they were promised jobs, housing, and food. Many of them came to California.

Crist, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet (Amskapi Pikuni) tribe, said that the promises were never filled, and Native peoples were left without resources and facing hostility from residents.

Canon Mary Crist describes to Diocesan Council on July 13 the Talking Circles that are a major focus of the diocese’s indigenous ministries program.

“Los Angeles’ population of Natives grew from 12,000 people in 1960 to 25,000 in 1966,” she said. “There were 25,000 living here in L.A. According to the 2020 census, Los Angeles County has 78,132 Native people living in it. Riverside County adds another 18,852 Native residents; San Bernardino, another 18,369 residents. All told, California has nearly 600,000 tribally affiliated Native residents.” This number, she added, does not include many others who have Native heritage, but whose tribes are not recognized by the U.S. government. “And the sad truth is, they won’t ever be recognized because they do not have their land,” said Crist. “Many of them have lost their language. They’ve lost their religions.”

The Talking Circle is held monthly on the rooftop terrace at St. Paul’s Commons in Echo Park, she said. “Our goal in this ministry is to develop leadership, to connect people with their traditions, to connect people with other urban Natives, and to let them know that it didn’t all go away in the past – that we’re all still here. And we’re strong and resilient. And we’re here to help one another.” Some 20 to 30 women attend the monthly in-person meetings, she said; as many as 125 meet weekly via Zoom on Tuesday nights.

Members of the Talking Circle have visited several congregations of the diocese, Crist said, including Trinity, Redlands; St. Edmund’s, San Marino; and St. Mary’s, Laguna Beach, where they sang for Earth Day in April. Crist said that invitations from other congregations are welcome; she asks only that the women be reimbursed for gas, as many are on limited incomes. (For information, contact Crist at mcristusa@gmail.com.)

“These are all indigenous women have multiple tribes and multiple religious traditions, mostly Christian, but interdenominational,” she said. Many of them are members of Pentecostal churches, because those were some of the few to welcome them when they arrived in California.

The circle also has taken part occasionally in demonstrations and service projects, including planting a “three sisters” garden of corn, squash and beans at St. Michael’s Ministry Center in Riverside and holding a prayer ceremony over it. That summer, she said, neighbors came to ask how they got their corn to grow so high.

The group also holds a Grandparents’ Day luncheon annual around All Saints Day to honor their ancestors. “Native people say we never walk alone,” said Crist. “We say we always walk with the ancestors who went on before us. We walk with our friends who walk today with us. And we also walk, being very aware that the little children are following us. So we’re always walking with at least three generations.” The circle celebrates its members’ milestone birthdays and accomplishments and holds cultural workshops to help the women understand their Native heritage.

They also carry out social service projects for indigenous children and families, with special care for young Native people, who are two and a half times more likely than those of other ethnic groups to commit suicide; others fall into drug abuse or alcoholism because of poverty and lack of societal support.

“We’re trying our best to make a difference,” said Crist, “and to not be victims of what happened in the past, but to look toward the future and to show the youth and young children of our families that we’re here for them as well.”

In answer to a question from Taylor, Crist said that Native people are drawn to Episcopal Church liturgy, which relates to Native rituals. They’re also attracted to the church’s social conscience and regard for the Earth, as well as its acceptance of LBGTQ+ people – a group revered by many Natives as “two-spirited,” people who live in a liminal space between two worlds.

Crist leads the work of St. Michael’s Ministry Center in Riverside, which provides aid to local homeless and impoverished neighbors, and recently opened a 50-unit affordable housing complex on its property (see related story here). Taylor, introducing her, called her work at St. Michael’s “incredibly innovative, cutting-edge” ministry that “in so many ways seems to me to be the future of the 21st-century church in the way it combines service to the housing and food insecure, daily contact with those who are less well privileged, multicultural ministry, innovative ministry, and advocacy.” Crist, a professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, is also Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s missioner for indigenous theological education for the wider church.

Brent Quines reports on Filipino ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles, mostly carried out at four congregations.

Filipino ministry in the diocese

The Rev. Brent Quines, rector of St. Benedict’s and Holy Trinity Church in Alhambra, said that Filipino ministry is part of the diocese’s New Communities group and is connected with the Filipino convocation of Episcopal Asiamerican Ministries (EAM), the churchwide program launched in 1973 by General Convention. Other convocations represent the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities; an eighth group is for youth and young adults.

Filipinos in the diocese fall into two groups, Quines explained; Episcopalians and members of the Philippine Independent Church, which is in full communion with The Episcopal Church.

Filipino members of Holy Trinity & St. Benedict’s, he said, are Episcopalians who primarily come from tribal or indigenous communities in the northern region of the Philippines. St. Benedict’s, a Filipino mission congregation founded in the 1980s, merged in XXXX with the longstanding parish of Holy Trinity.

St. John’s Church in Wilmington is an Episcopal Church that shares its facilities and clergy with Holy Child Parish of the Philippine Independent Church. Quines said that Holy Child’s members mostly originated in the lowland areas of the Philippines, where Tagolog is the primary language. Their pastor is the Rt. Rev. Gerry Engnan, who recently was consecrated a bishop of the PIC, overseeing its Western United States, Canada and Pacific Islands congregations.

Another PIC church is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, nested at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Van Nuys, and also served by Engnan, who will be installed in his new ministry as a bishop at a service at St. Mark’s on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m.

The fourth church with a significant Filipino membership is St. Thomas’ Church in Hacienda Heights, where the Rev. Hsin-Fen (Fennie) Chang is the vicar.

Quines commented that he is one of only two active Episcopal Filipino clergy in the diocese; the other is the Rev. Jonathan Sy, vicar of St. Hillary’s Church in Hesperia. Bishop Artemio Zabala, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, is also resident in the diocese.

Quines said that Episcopal Church missionaries from the United States in the early 20th century gained followers in the Philippines by introducing education and by building clinics and hospitals as well as churches, primarily in the northern area of the country that had not been previously evangelized.

Finance report

Canon Andy Tomat, volunteer treasurer of the diocese, was unable to attend the meeting, but submitted a written report, in which he said that two more parishes have sent in their 2023 Mission Share Fund (MSF) financial commitments since last month. Several congregations have caught up on past due pledges, reducing deficits by $85,000. Tomat noted that he and the bishop are working with several congregations to help them manage their MSF commitments, which beginning in 2024 will be mandatory assessments at 12% of normal operating income. Mission congregations pay a mandatory 10% assessment, plus about 5% in other assessments; in response to a question from a council member, Taylor noted that all missions of the diocese are in compliance.

Contributions to diocesan income from the Corporation of the Diocese have increased, Tomat wrote, mostly due to rental income at St. Paul’s Commons, which recently welcomed staff from the ecumenical Immaculate Heart Community to their new offices in the Echo Park facility. (See related story here.)

Diocesan spending is below planned budget figures, but payments to The Episcopal Church of additional assessments based on PPP (emergency Covid-19 relief grants) will add $66,181 to its expenses beginning in the second half of 2023 and continuing for three years. The diocese’s timely payment of its mandatory assessments also ensures that it will continue to receive from The Episcopal Church grants such as the one funding the Native American Talking Circle described by Crist in her report.

IRIS (the diocese’s refugee ministry) is spending a little more than it is receiving in grant income at the moment, but as it receives reimbursement, mostly from government sources, after expenses are reported, Tomat said that this timing variance was expected. CFLC/Prism (chaplaincy) has seen a funding shortfall in this, its first year, because it did not receive expected income from initial grant applications. According to Tomat, CFLC/Prism staff are managing expenses to break even as they continue the programs already under way and are seeking additional funding. They also are working to establish community partnerships with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health and St. Joseph’s Center in Santa Monica.

“There is a recognized need (and funding) for resources which support spiritual wellness as a component of mental health services and supportive and low-income housing programs,” wrote Tomat. “There is also a visceral allergy within the social service network to resources that are perceived as too Christian or mono-religious. [CFLC/Prism staff] are working to navigate those tensions to find contexts where lay chaplains can support spiritual wellness and funding can be secured for the long-term growth of the CFLC program.”

Seeds of Hope, the food justice ministry, is working with diocesan leaders to resolve a disagreement “over budgeted levels of grant income and administrative support reimbursement,” Tomat wrote.

Other reports

Samantha Wylie, secretary of council, told council that the Program Group on Compensation, formed by a resolution of Diocesan Convention in 2022, has begun its work and is recruiting members. “We’re looking for representation from congregations, from institutions, from schools; at people with backgrounds in HR and finance,” said Wylie, who with Canon Anilin Collado, missioner for human resources for the diocese, is staff liaison to the new program group. “The group will be working on parity for lay and ordained employees across the diocese and our churches, institutions, and schools. The group will also be serving as the new diocesan Insurance Committee. And we’ll be collaborating alongside the Joint Budget Committee in the annual budgeting process.” Meetings are held via Zoom. Those interested in serving on the program group may contact Wylie at swylie@ladiocese.org or Collado at humanresources@ladiocese.org.

Diane Askren reported that the Standing Committee of the diocese approved a request from St. Mark’s School, Altadena, to take out a bank loan to construct a new preschool facility. St. Michael & All Angels Church, Studio City, suffered damage from a fire hydrant incident, she said, but floors in classrooms are being replaced. Askren also reminded the council that the Rev. Michael Bell has been appointed vice president for affordable housing and business development at Episcopal Communities & Services, as announced on July 12 (see story here).

Tim Hartley said that the Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change will meet Aug. 28. The commission expects to announce a town hall event to be held in September at St. Paul’s Commons.

Canon Steven Nishibayashi, secretary of convention, told council that 120 days remained until Diocesan Convention, to be held on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11, at the Riverside Convention Center. He and Wylie, who is convention coordinator, said that the deadline for proposed amendments to the constitution and canons of the diocese is Aug. 2; deadline for submitting resolutions is Sept. 1. Submission forms may be found on the convention website.

Nishibayashi, who also is co-chair of The Episcopal Church’s Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, said that nominations for candidates would close July 14, and that the committee will meet in several times in the fall and spring to discuss potential nominees. By canon law, they must name at least three qualified candidates, who will stand for election at the General Convention meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2024.

Reports from the bishop and canon to the ordinary

Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy said she returned a week ago from a “fantastic” two weeks at Camp Stevens as part of the counselor training staff. She reported that the camp is doing well, slowly recovering from the Covid shutdown that brought their activities and revenue to a halt during the summers of 2020 and 2021.

McCarthy also reported that the painting of St. Paul’s Commons – a project much delayed due to unusually heavy winter and spring rain – is nearing completion, “and it’s looking better all the time,” she said. “It’s going to be great when it’s finished.”

McCarthy will be on vacation through the first week of August; Canon Gail Urquidi (aurquidi@ladiocese.org) will be available to answer questions or offer assistance.

In his report, Bishop Taylor also spoke about the new ECS housing officer, Michael Bell. It is, Taylor said, “a brand new post, completely funded by ECS, designed to support all of our mission churches, ministry centers and parishes as they seek to fulfill our diocese-wide commitment to build affordable housing on 25% of our campuses.”

Bell also will be available to help congregations with “Episcopal Enterprise types of ministries” that allow them to use their facilities and other assets to help their communities and support their work, Taylor said. But his focus will be affordable housing.

“I don’t think a week passes that I don’t hear news about a church that’s decided to take the leap of faith to provide space for our housing insecure neighbors,” Taylor said, encouraging clergy and church leaders to contact Bell (mbell@ecsforseniors.org) after his Aug. 1 start date.

Taylor said he will take vacation time in August, including an Alaska cruise and his annual weeklong solo road trip to explore the Southwest.

Diane Askren, who is a member of All Saints Church, Riverside, announced that St. Michael’s Apartments will hold its grand opening on Monday, July 24; Taylor will be on hand to bless the project in Riverside. “It’s going to be a joyous occasion, I can tell you,” she said. “The people that are living there are so happy to have a bed to sleep in and a shower and a place to cook. And it’s been a joy to see the children running around on the grass.

Taylor added that residents of the 50 units of permanent housing on the campus of St. Michael’s Ministry Center also have service providers to help them deal with life’s challenges. He recently visited the facility, and realized, he said, “now that the apartments are occupied and the folks are living there, the Episcopal Church cannot leave that campus, because we now have a pastoral obligation to continue to provide community for the folks who are living there, to provide pastoral and if they wish, church community support.

“Once we build housing on a property, the church is going to find new meaning every time. So it’s a historic thing that’s happening when the first of what is going to be 33 projects is formally consecrated.”

Bob Williams, canon for common life, reported that the diocese would have an active presence at the Echo Park Lotus Festival July 15-16, focused this year on Indonesia. A booth at the festival highlighted various diocesan ministries, including the credit union, the retreat center, St. Athanasius’ Church, and Holy Spirit Community, which recently began meeting on Thursdays at St. Paul’s Commons after several years in Atwater Village and previous residence in the Silver Lake neighborhood. The Laos chamber music group, based at Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel, offered a free concert at the Commons on Sunday afternoon during the festival.

Williams announced that the recent interfaith town hall discussion on white Christian nationalism led by Pamela Cooper White, held at St. Paul’s Commons, soon will be available on video; watch The Episcopal News Update for details.

Upcoming is a visit from the Rev. Fadi Diab, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ramallah, Diocese of Jerusalem, who will speak at several places in the diocese later in July, including Trinity Church, Santa Barbara; St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach; and at St. Paul’s Commons. More information is here.

The next meeting of Diocesan Council will be held via Zoom on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m.