Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on March 9. (Not all participants are pictured.)

[The Episcopal News – March 15, 2023] Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy called the March 9 regular online meeting of Diocesan Council to order with a tribute to Nancy Doss, a lifelong member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Redlands and Deanery 7 council representative, who had passed away earlier that day.

“She also served two years on the Joint Budget Committee,” McCarthy told stunned council members. “It is super shocking. She has been dealing with cancer for several months and from what I understand … she went into hospice on Friday and died this morning.”

Other tributes were offered. “I want to add on behalf of the joint budget committee, what an amazing voice Nancy brought to the group; very wise counsel,” said diocesan treasurer Canon Andy Tomat. “As we gather in the year ahead, we’re always going to be thinking, ‘what would Nancy say?’ She was a very practical person, as we dealt with many, many difficult decisions. She will be missed, but her legacy will live on, and we’ll try to do the best in her honor.”

Doss remained dedicated to diocesan service even as she fought cancer while in hospice care, according to the Rev. CC Schroeder, who serves as part of the Inland Empire ministry triad sharing clergy and resources at Trinity, Redlands; St. Stephen’s, Beaumont; and St. Alban’s, Yucaipa.

“She was very sorry that she couldn’t continue the work,” said Schroeder. “She was very proud of the work she did, and she said she received wonderful messages from those who knew she wasn’t doing well. You were very much on her mind even in these last days. She really had a love for this diocese. I know she sends her love to you, and we’re just grateful that her pain has ended.”

Funeral arrangements are pending. An obituary is here.

McCarthy chaired the meeting in the absence of Bishop John Harvey Taylor, who was attending a House of Bishops meeting at the Episcopal Camp McDowell, in Nauvoo, Alabama.

Financial report

Tomat reported that Mission Share Fund collections from parishes and mission congregations were within 8% of a significantly higher $4.5 million MSF budget for 2023, and that “we are starting to receive reimbursement of administrative costs from our grant-supported programs like IRIS and Seeds of Hope.”

However, he added, “Grants received by IRIS, our government-supported refugee and immigration services program, were $191,000 lower than budgeted in January, largely due to the timing of when the grants are received during the year. IRIS’s expenses are running $42,000 under budget as their costs are tied to the number of clients they are supporting at any given time. In total, we are running a $255,910 deficit, but this is largely driven by the timing of the initial IRIS and Seeds of Hope grants. We aren’t concerned as they expect grant income to align with spending after a few months.”

The diocese’s regular operating expenses are running 8% under budget, he said.

Diocesan payments to The Episcopal Church, which are based on 15% of 2021 normal operating income, are “higher than in 2022 because our normal operating income was higher.” The payments do not include a 15% assessment of the $3.3 million income from the forgiveness of the diocese’s pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan in 2021, “because we have made an appeal that this be waived,” Tomat added. “We are waiting for final confirmation that this waiver was granted by the Executive Council,” which governs the wider church between General Conventions.

By the end of February, MSF commitments had been received from all 37 mission congregations and 44 of 92 parishes, he said. “The finance office will start following up with the rest of the parishes as most should have approved their MSF commitments already.”

Canon Suzanne Edwards-Acton, co-chair of the diocese’s Program Group on Black Ministries, describes the group’s work during the past year. Photo: Screenshot

Reports from Program Groups: Black Ministries

Canon Suzanne Edwards-Acton, co-chair of the diocesan Program Group on Black Ministries reported a range of activities celebrating Black Episcopalians, ranging from the Jan. 15 annual diocesan Martin Luther King Jr. service, which featured Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as preacher.

A special time was set aside for Black Episcopal elders to take photos and meet and greet Curry, she added. “A lot of people had never really had that opportunity to be that close to Presiding Bishop Curry and to get a hug from him and just tell him how proud of him they were. Additionally, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was also there” along with other civic and political leaders in the Black community, she said.

A service in honor of Absalom Jones (1746 –1818 ), first person of African ancestry to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, was held at St. Stephen’s, Beaumont, on Feb. 19. The program group and UBE chapter sponsored another service honoring Jones’ life and legacy Feb. 29 at Holy Faith, Inglewood.

Recently, the group along with the H. Belfield Hannibal Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians hosted a March 11 service commemorating the life of former Massachusetts Suffragan Bishop Barbara Harris (see related story), the first woman ordained a bishop in The Episcopal Church. There is a church-wide movement to add Harris to the church calendar of saints.

Wednesday Lenten Evensong services of “Lament, Hope and Call to Action for Black Lives” are being offered at the diocese’s historically Black congregations, preceded by soul food suppers together, she said. The inaugural service was held March 8 at St. Barnabas Church in Pasadena. Others are planned for: March 15 at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Los Angeles; March 22 at the Church of the Advent in Los Angeles; and March 29 at St. Timothy’s Church in Compton. (See related story here.)

Edwards-Acton thanked the council “for the amazing budget that we have this year.” About $34,000 has been allocated for Black ministry, compared to about $1,800 in 2022.

The gatherings are considered “healing work” from a legacy of segregation that resulted in creation of historically Black congregations, including the founding of St. Barnabas because “all Black people were not received at All Saints, Pasadena,” Edwards-Acton said. “We were told to go to the other church down the street – you’re not really welcome here.” Similar circumstances happened elsewhere in the diocese “and that kind of reveals itself even to the current day,” she said. “So we are using our budget line to do some healing work in our spaces.”

“I really deeply want to acknowledge that the money is being used to affirm that we are an important part of this diocese, … we should all be proud of what we’re doing – and come and join us.”

The program group and H. Belfield Hannibal UBE chapter in December 2022 held a Harambe service at St. Andrew’s Church in Torrance. Harambe is a Swahili term that means “all pull together.”

“Just the space of joy and beautiful music and togetherness and community” has infused the services, Edwards-Acton added. The gatherings have helped to add technology to some congregations that “really needed it. Sometimes, we don’t use those churches because they don’t have much technology,” especially sound. “But we think it’s important for our community to be able to be in those spaces.”

“Any of you are welcome at any of these services, so I do hope you will join us for some of them,” she said.

Other council reports

Standing Committee: The committee met March 1 and, among other things, approved for candidacy for holy orders Paula Walker, Tim Hamlin, Mel Soriano, Jonathan Stoner, and Joshua Wong, according to the Rev. Lester Mackenzie.

Also approved were ground lease agreements for development of affordable housing projects; for individual townhomes at St. Michael’s, Anaheim, and affordable senior apartments at St. Anselm’s, Garden Grove (see story here). The committee also approved a lease agreement for St. Philip’s Church, Los Angeles, with Children’s Collective Inc., for operation of an infant and toddler care center, and for Nefesh, a progressive Jewish spiritual community to continue to lease space from the diocese.

Lively discussion centered around the anticipated request for Standing Committee consent to the Nov. 19, 2022 second election of Florida Bishop Charlie Holt. A May 14, 2022, election was nullified after complaints of voting irregularities.

“A big challenge will be; will Bishop[-elect] Holt adhere to practice the office of diocesan bishop?” said Mackenzie. “Will he practice that office in conjunction and as aligned with canons and constitutions set by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, especially around our LGBTQX siblings and siblings of color?” Holt has said he opposes same-gender marriage and made statements considered insulting to both the LGBTQ and Black communities.

Procedural questions have also surfaced regarding the second election, Mackenzie said.

United Thank Offering

The United Thank Offering (UTO) raised $407 from an ingathering at the 2022 diocesan convention, according to Tammy Smecker-Hane, diocesan coordinator and co-chair of the Province VIII campaigns. A photo featuring the “color-your-own” mite box at convention won a UTO photo contest and was featured on the organization’s Feb. 7 Facebook page, she said.

The diocesan Center for Lay Chaplaincy and Prism, the restorative justice ministry, have submitted a proposal for a $60,000 UTO grant in alignment with its theme for 2023, “Prison Ministry, or the Worldwide Incarceration Crisis,” Smecker-Hane said.

UTO grants supporting innovative ministries are funded by Episcopalians and others who drop coins in the organization’s trademark blue mite boxes as thanksgiving offerings.

Smecker-Hane said UTO’s 2024 theme will be “Welcoming the Stranger” and that she intends to work with IRIS to seek a grant. Each diocese in The Episcopal Church may submit one grant request, she said. Bishop Taylor selects the request from the Diocese of Los Angeles that will go forward, and Smecker-Hane works with its sponsors to complete the application.

Total UTO donations from the Diocese of Los Angeles in 2022 were about $12,000, a 41% increase from the previous year, making it the highest giver in Province VIII, she said. Still, that amount represents participation by only 12 congregations, or 9% of all churches in the diocese. “I would really like to work at improving that number,” she said.

“UTO Starter Kits” will be available to congregations, including blue boxes, liturgies, prayers, and explanations of the organization, and she intends to attend deanery clergy meetings to continue to publicize the organization’s ministry.

Christine Budzowski, diocesan ECW president, reported that the Episcopal Church Women board will meet in Salt Lake City in June. “Each diocese can send up to three or four people. If anybody has an interest in attending the ECW provincial gathering in June, contact me, and I will work to see how to make that possible,” she said.

Upcoming conventions and a report from the Canon to the Ordinary

McCarthy reported she was elected chair of the diocesan deputation to General Convention in 2024, and that Thomas Diaz will serve as liaison to council.

Appointment of council members to serve as liaisons to the Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change and Diocesan Council – Mike Morris, Christine Budzowski, Dan Valdez, the Rev. Barrett Van Buren, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Ann Seitz and the Rev. Tim Hartley – was unanimously approved.

Secretary of Convention Canon Steve Nishibayashi reported there were, on March 8, 246 days until the Nov. 10 – 11 Diocesan Convention at the Riverside Convention Center. Parochial reports were due March 1; congregations have until May 1 to submit them through The Episcopal Church portal. “They are critical to planning as program and budget gets developed, particularly with a shortened term between the last and next General Convention,” which will meet in July 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Nishibayashi thanked congregations that have updated their leadership information at the convention website and urged deaneries to select and submit information for youth delegates for the upcoming convention.

Echoing the importance of parochial reports as an indicator of future church trends, McCarthy said she has reviewed data from diocesan congregations for the last five years and noticed a trend that not all, but many congregations have experienced a 50% decline in average Sunday attendance (ASA) post-pandemic.

Yet, it “does not mean the pastoral load for clergy is any less,” she said. Twice daily, clergy and the people of the diocese are prayed for by diocesan staff, especially while “figuring out what it looks like to be a church after this pandemic.”

McCarthy also reported that Bishop Taylor recently baptized Princess Lilibet, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) at their Montecito home, and “it was a great experience,” but the Sussexes’ media representative referred to him is a press release as an archbishop, “and he’s been busy rolling that one back and making it clear he’s not an archbishop.” Taylor will be leading a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land soon, she added.

In other council business, the Rev. Tim Hartley was elected diocesan clergy representative to council at large, replacing the Rev. Paul Price, who has relocated to Whidby Island, Washington, where he serves as rector of St. Stephen’s Church.

Council meets next on Thursday, April 13 at 4 p.m. via Zoom.