Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on June 8, 2023. (Not all attendees are pictured.)

[The Episcopal News] Diocesan Council, meeting via Zoom on June 8, heard reports of strategies to improve the Diocese of Los Angeles’ communication and refugee ministries as Bishop John Harvey Taylor noted that the meeting date was celebrated at St. Paul’s Commons as “Malcolm Boyd Day,” marking the late priest-writer-activist’s 100th birthday.

The Program Group on Communications & Public Affairs is actively working to improve connections to the diverse ethnic communities of the Diocese of Los Angeles, with a particular focus on the Latino population, according to co-chairs Hannah Riley of the Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel, and the Rev. Carlos Ruvalcaba of St. Stephen’s Church, Hollywood.

Riley listed the program group’s four “mountaintop” goals:

  • To gather 20,000 names and email addresses for the Episcopal News Update mailing list, mostly by collecting parishioners’ information from congregations throughout the diocese. They’re a little less than halfway to their goal, Riley said, noting that the mailing list currently has about 8,000 addresses.
  • To develop a strategic plan for diocesan communications, “with input from a wide range of stakeholders, including our bishop, task forces, and program groups.”
  • To help congregations create adequate websites to help further their ministries. There are 13 congregations in the diocese, Riley said, that don’t have viable websites. Development of new sites is being made available without charge by program group members Christine Budzowski (also president of the diocese’s Episcopal Church Women) and Payton Hoegh, who handles technical aspects of the diocese’s website.
  • Creating culturally competent communication programs for the diocese’s diverse communities.

Ruvalcaba elaborated on the fourth point, especially concerning the Latino/Latina community.

“We need to keep in mind that we Hispanic Latinos are a large group of people from many different cultures, languages, races, nationalities; yet one single community that tries to embed in the larger community,” he said.

He used the acronym “CCO,” which stands for context, content and outcome. “We can have control of the content of what we want to communicate. And since we cannot control the outcome, we have a better chance of successful results when we invest time in knowing more and are familiarized with the context” of a particular ethnic or social group.

“Latinos are a medley of cultures, languages, races and nationalities,” he said. “So context includes, but is not limited to, the level of education, language, social status, cultural dynamics within each particular culture. Each context dictates how people live, experience and evaluate the behavior of others based on their own past experiences. In other words, context influences our ability to choose what to accept, and what to reject. Therefore, communication requires effective use of contextual skills in order to find and recognize our shared beliefs, our values and our way of sharing our lives in the same world with others.”

Ruvalcaba offered several statistics concerning the Latino population:

  • 60.4 million Hispanics live in the United States, according to the 2020 census: 66% Mexican, 13% Central and South Americans, 9.4% Puerto Ricans, 3.0% Cubans and 7.5% other origins.
  • 15.57 million Latinos live in California; 39% of the state’s population.
  • 70% of immigrants speak English very well or well; only 10% speak no English.
  • 62.7% of Hispanic Latinos are age 34 years or younger.
  • One in five Americans is Latino. By 2045, experts project it will be one in four.
  • In California, 53% of Latinos are U.S. citizens; 22% are undocumented, and 25% have other legal status.
    Although the Latino median income is lower than the U.S. average, data suggests that they are moving into the middle class with increasing earnings.

“Knowing the habits and preferences of Hispanic Latinos can help us tailor compelling messages for this audience,” said Ruvalcaba. “Therefore the program group, on our way to finding creative ways to keep in touch with our community, is considering custom publications that address lifestyle, interests and needs; that reflect their rich and diverse cultural background.”

Research, he said, shows that Latinos, especially young people, “prefer short and concise messages, and social media posts” to email messages. “So social media and text messages rather than email or printed publications are a valuable and unexploited opportunity that we are trying to experience and put into practice to expand our reach and connect to the growing demographics.” The program group, he said, is establishing a Spanish-language Facebook page for the diocese as well as a WhatsApp account for such communications.

Similar attention is being paid to the AAIP (Asian-American) population of the diocese, Riley and Ruvalcaba said in answer to a question from a council member.

IRIS sees increased refugee activity

IRIS and the diocese’s immigration ministry, after a lean period caused by the anti-immigrant policies of the previous U.S. administration, is ramping up quickly to assist new refugees as they resettle in the Los Angeles area, according to Troy Elder, IRIS’s executive director.

“IRIS is back up and running in a way that it really hasn’t been in many, many years,” said Elder, a widely experienced immigration lawyer, who reported that the agency has 21 full-time employees or their equivalents, along with interns, students and volunteers. The ministry is mostly housed at St. Francis’ Chapel in the Atwater Village neighborhood; the few working at St. Paul’s Commons eventually will move to join them.

“We’re on track this year to resettle 321 refugees through our primary resettlement program, which is largely funded by the Department of State,” said Elder, adding that most of the newcomers are from Afghanistan, with others from Iraq, Ukraine and “a smattering of other countries.” He said that Episcopal Migration Ministries, the immigration program of The Episcopal Church with which IRIS is affiliated, has asked them to be prepared to receive expected additional refugees from Iran and Ukraine.

Elder paid tribute to his predecessor, “the incredibly able Meghan Tumilty Taylor,” who led IRIS for nearly 13 years, including the lean years during which the agency’s funding and staff sank to historic lows. Elder, who was the diocese’s immigration officer under the late Bishop J. Jon Bruno, also served for several years in a similar capacity in the Diocese of San Diego before returning nine months ago as director of IRIS.

He invited the diocese to IRIS’s World Refugee Day celebration and open house at 4 – 7 p.m. on June 20 at its offices at 3621 Brunswick Avenue, Los Angeles 90039. “We are going to have free food from ethnic immigrant vendors,” he said. “We’re going to have art stations; we’re going to have places where you can help build a refugee welcome kit with our staff. Seeds of Hope, we’re thrilled, is going to be helping spruce up our garden; we’re going to be planting an herb garden from around the world.

“We’re very excited to involve all of our congregations throughout the diocese in our important work of welcoming the stranger.”

More about IRIS is here.

Financial report

Canon Andy Tomat, volunteer treasurer of the diocese, reported that since the May 2023 meeting of council six more parishes have submitted their Mission Share Fund commitments for 2023, bringing the total to 69 churches out of 89. The average parish commitment has dropped to 9.6% of normal operating income, matching 2022 numbers, but short of the 12% that will be required of all parishes beginning in 2024. (Mission congregations’ MSF contributions are mandated at 10% per year.)

Six congregations have requested waivers of their MSF contributions this year. Tomat, with the Rev. Susan Stanton, chief financial officer of the diocese, is working with those congregations to help them meet their obligations and continue their ministries. Several other parishes, he said, have caught up on their payments, adding about $20,000 to diocesan income.

Current diocesan MSF income is running 7% below current budgeted figures, Tomat said. Grant income for the diocese’s major grant-funded ministries – Seeds of Hope, CFLC/Prism chaplaincy ministries  and IRIS – is also under budget. Most of IRIS’s funding is on a reimbursement basis from government agencies, he noted, and comes in one to two months after expenses are reported, so the current shortfall is expected and will be made up as the year progresses.

CFLC/Prism and Seeds of Hope continue to seek additional sources of funding to replace lost grant income, Tomat said, adding that diocesan expenses generally are running under budget.

Referring to the coming change from a pledge basis to an assessment basis for parishes’ MSF contributions, Taylor said: “We’ve now got a complete Mission Share Fund ad hoc committee, a group of dedicated individuals who are going to be helping us speak to the diocese and community about the 12% initiative as the pledge ethic fades away and a mandatory assessment ethic comes in starting Jan. 1. This group is going to help parishes deal with difficult questions and give them tools for prioritizing, and … set up an appeals process which is fair and firm but all also humane.”

The Rev. Rachel Nyback, rector of St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach, and member of the Corporation of the Diocese, will chair the ad hoc group, Taylor said. Other members will be Charlotte Borst, also of the corporation, and Diocesan Council member the Very Rev. Canon Ian Davies, Michael Morris and Canon Ann Seitz.

Other reports

Diane Askren reported that the Standing Committee, at its last meeting, approved a lease agreement by which All Saints Church, Highland Park, will share its facility with the Church of the Resurrection, a member congregation of the Anglican Church of North America (see related story here). The committee also approved a ground lease agreement for St. Joseph’s Church, Buena Park, for its planned affordable housing project.

Christine Budzowski said that she and several other members of the diocese’s Episcopal Church Women will attend the Province VIII ECW conference in Salt Lake City later this month. At that meeting, she said, she and others will unveil a new leadership program that also will be presented in August to the Parliament of World Religions meeting in Chicago.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, reporting for the Program Group on Mission Congregations, said that mission congregations of the diocese are in the process of completing their applications for mission development grants, which are due July 1. Hall said that the program group also will be working with missions to bring compensation for their vicars or priests-in-charge up to diocesan standards, as mandated in a resolution by last year’s Diocesan Convention.

Tim Hartley of the Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change said that the group is planning a diocesan town hall on “all things climate change,” tentatively scheduled for Sept. 16, to which it hopes to draw delegates from all congregations. He also said that one of the commission’s subcommittees is advocating for passage in the state legislature of SB252, a bill that would forbid new or renewed investments in fossil fuel companies for the state’s public employee and teacher retirement plans.

Samantha Wylie, who serves as secretary of Diocesan Council as well as convention coordinator for the diocese, reported on behalf of Canon Steven Nishibayashi, secretary of convention, that as of the council meeting, 154 days remained until Diocesan Convention, to be held on Nov. 10 – 11 at the Riverside Convention Center. Wylie said that forms for nominations to elective office, as well as those for submitting resolutions (deadline is Sept. 1) or proposed changes to the diocese’s constitution and canons (deadline is Aug. 2), are available on the convention website. In answer to a question from a council member, Wylie said that reservations for exhibit hall tables will be opened in late June or early July.

Staff reports

Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy reminded the council of the ordination to the diaconate on June 10, and said that she would be out of the office in coming weeks to help staff the annual Counselor Training session at Camp Stevens.

Bishop Taylor mentioned several upcoming events in the diocese, including the June 10 ordination, June 11 Pride festivities, and the June 11 centennial celebration at St. Barnabas’ Church, Pasadena, a historically Black parish (see related reports at episcopalnews.com).

Canon Ian Davies, rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Hollywood, said that Charlie Bell, a medical doctor and priest of the Diocese of Suffolk in England will visit the diocese in July. Bell was recently appointed by the House of Bishops of the Church of England to work with the Living in Love and Faith process, which is, Davies said, “anything to do with LGBTQ issues.” Bell will meet with local clergy and laity on Thursday, July 13 at St. Paul’s Commons and on Friday, July 14 at St. Thomas’ Church.

Bob Williams, canon for common life, invited all to a forum at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 9 that will discuss ways to counter white Christian nationalism (see notice here). He also said that on July 13, on the weekend of the annual Lotus Festival in Echo Park, St. Paul’s Commons would host a concert by the Laos Chamber Orchestra, which is based at Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel. More details will be available in the Episcopal News Update

The next meeting of Diocesan Council will be held via Zoom on Thursday, July 13.