Diocesan Council meets via Zoom on May 11, 2023. (Not all in attendance are pictured.)

[The Episcopal News] The Diocese of Los Angeles will soon have a “housing czar” who will assist congregations that want to join the diocese’s initiative to build affordable housing on 25% of its properties, Bishop John Harvey Taylor told the May 11 meeting of Diocesan Council.

Taylor announced the new position, which will be funded by Episcopal Communities and Services, an institution of the diocese, during his report near the end of the regularly scheduled meeting, which was conducted via Zoom.

Other matters discussed during the meeting included progress on the housing initiative; pleas for churches to complete their parochial reports as soon as possible; and news that a larger-than-expected assessment from The Episcopal Church will strain the diocese’s resources but will be possible to pay with cooperation from its congregations.

Taylor also renewed his longstanding request for congregations to provide their mailing lists to The Episcopal News. “If for whatever reason, a church sends us an address of somebody who doesn’t want to be on the list, it’s easy to unsubscribe. But once they start reading it, they’re not going to want to miss it because it’s full of all kinds of good reporting about our mission and ministry,” he said. Canon for Common Life Bob Williams later confirmed that several congregations have recently provided their lists, which may be sent in any format to editor@ladiocese.org.

Treasurer’s report

Canon Andy Tomat, diocesan treasurer, told the council that thanks to timely payments by most congregations, first quarter Mission Share Fund income is in line with the budget and expenses generally are at or below budgeted levels. He also said that income handled by the Corporation of the Diocese (COTD) has increased by about $100,000 over what was expected this year due to rent from new tenants at St. Paul’s Commons and successful fundraising for the One Body & One Spirit annual appeal, which funds grants to churches and institutions for needs not covered in their budgets. In addition, grant-funded programs are now reimbursing the diocese for administrative costs, a key part of the 2023 budget.

Several of the programs of the diocese – the Center for Lay Chaplaincy and PRISM (CFLC/PRISM); Seeds of Hope, the food justice program; and IRIS, the refugee and immigration ministry – have not received some of the grant money they had hoped for in the first quarter, Tomat reported. CFLC/PRISM has deferred hiring and some of its intended programming to compensate until additional sources of funding are found. IRIS’s grants, which come mostly from government resources, are also running below budget, but Tomat noted that these shortfalls are primarily due to the number and timing of refugee resettlements (primarily from Afghanistan and Ukraine), and that IRIS has reserves from previous grants that it is using to cover current expenses. Seeds of Hope’s grant income is also running about 30% under budget, and COTD will meet with their director to consult about ways to improve and manage their finances.

A financial challenge facing the diocese, Tomat said, has to do with the diocese’s annual commitment to The Episcopal Church (TEC), which is determined by an 15% assessment of its income of two years ago (2021).

In presenting the 2023 budget to Diocesan Convention in November 2022, Tomat stated that our budget assumed a TEC commitment exclusive of an assessment of our one-time $3M income from the US government PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan – converted to a grant – that allowed the diocese to pay staff and mission clergy during the Covid-19 pandemic. Tomat and Taylor wrote a letter to the Executive Council of TEC asking that this be waived in line with how it is treated as non-taxable income by the IRS, as well as the diocese’s financial hardship. As reported at General Convention TEC’s biennial budget also did not assume any expected windfall from this assessment.

Tomat told the council that The Episcopal Church’s Assessment Review Committee has denied that request, and that the diocese will need to remit an additional $200,000, reflecting 15% of the portion of the PPP loan proceeds used to cover the payroll of diocesan staff. The Assessment Review Committee will, however, recommend to Executive Council that the diocese’s request to pay the additional monies over a three-year period be granted. They also reminded the diocese that failure to pay the added assessment on a timely basis would result in it being cut off from participating in TEC grant-funded programs and committees.

Tomat said he hoped that the diocese would be able to pay the added assessment without painful expense reductions by collecting unpaid pledges from several congregations that amount to about $1.1 million. There’s no question of the diocese defaulting on its payment, he said, and all other dioceses have paid the PPP assessment, mostly through increased assessments of their congregations.

“Irrespective of whether we might disagree with the Episcopal Church’s definition of income, we’ve got to pay our assessment,” said Taylor. “We’re asking our constituents to pay theirs. An irony of this is that what made it easy for or easier for most dioceses to do it without complaint is that they already do assessments. … And that’s what we’re moving toward. So I love the way that Canon Tomat put it in the context that we’re just basically being expected to do what we’re now asking our constituents to do. And it’s appropriate and meet and right.”

As announced at its 2022 convention, the Diocese of Los Angeles is in the process of changing from a voluntary pledge system, in which each parish is asked to contribute 12% of its normal operating income, to an assessment, which requires that percentage each year. (Mission congregations are already assessed at 10%, which they pay in addition to about 5% in other mandatory contributions.) Tomat said that for 2023 the diocese has received commitments from 63 of the diocese’s 89 parishes. “Their average MSF percentage of 2021 net normal operating income is 9.9%,” he said, “which is significantly higher than last year. So we are making progress on our road to 12% next year.”

However, he said, the diocesan finance office has not yet heard from 21 parishes, and five more have asked to pay a lower amount for various reasons, as reported at the April council meeting. The Bishop and Canon Tomat are in the process of responding to the 5 parishes that have submitted waiver letters and the Rev. Susan Stanton, chief financial officer, is is following up with the other congregations to help them work toward paying their full obligations.

The Rev. Rachel Nyback, rector of St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach, reporting for the Corporation of the Diocese, noted that some congregations, including her own, have been paying the full 12% for many years. “However, I’m very aware from talking to other clergy in our diocese that to suddenly demand 12% could be very difficult,” she said. At Taylor’s request, she and fellow corporation member Charlotte Borst will serve on a committee with several members of Diocesan Council yet to be named that will help develop a “clear and transparent” appeal process that parishes can use when they are not able to pay their assessment.

“We don’t know what that process would look like,” Nyback said. “We have some ideas. We’re looking at other dioceses to see what they’ve done. And we hope to have our own process put together soon,” ideally by July.

If congregations refuse to contribute, she said, the diocese does have canonical leverage, such as denying seat and voice at Diocesan Convention, though Nyback and Taylor both stressed that such actions would be taken only as a last resort, and that the diocese will work with any parish that needs help managing financial matters.

Taylor said: “I think it’s important for everyone in our diocese to understand that we need to find a way to do this, while making sure that no one is left behind, and everyone is invited to move forward together with us. And that if churches find that this is structurally beyond their ability to do, then it’s our responsibility to come alongside and say, well, how can you remain in ministry in the place you love with the resources that are available?”

Other reports

Nyback reported that the Corporation of the Diocese has approved license agreements for St. Paul’s Church, Ventura, and All Saints’ Church, Highland Park (Los Angeles). It also approved the transfer of the property of St. Michael’s Church, Anaheim, to the corporation of the diocese; a technicality, Nyback said, adding, “It had been done on one side legally, but not on the other side legally. So now we’re all legal.”

Diane Askren reported that the Standing Committee approved the ordination of Joshua Wong, Mel Soriano, Jonathan Stone and Tim Hammond to the diaconate; approved the aforementioned license agreement for the Ventura congregation and business matters for St. Michael’s Church, Anaheim, and St. Anselm’s Church, Garden Grove. They deferred action on the Highland Park license agreement to June pending further discernment. The Standing Committee also consented to the elections of the Rev. Ann Ritonia as bishop suffragan of the armed forces and federal ministries; the Rev. Carrie Schofield-Broadbent as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Maryland; and the Rev. David G. Read as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of West Texas. The committee did not consent to the election of the Rev. Charles Holt as bishop of Florida. (In later remarks, Taylor stated that he also had declined his consent to that election.)

Christine Budzowski, president of the diocesan Episcopal Church Women (ECW) reported that the Daughters of the King held a successful online Spring Assembly on May 6. Representatives from IRIS, PRISM and Hillsides, the diocesan institution that operates a group home for children and provides services for at-risk families, addressed the online gathering, and met with members in breakout rooms – a positive experience for all, Budzowski said, that will help raise the profile of those ministries.

Budzowski also reported that the ECW of The Episcopal Church’s Province 8 will meet in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 23 – 25. The conference will hear from ECW’s affiliated ministries, including United Thank Offering (UTO), Daughters of the King, Church Periodical Club and more. Budzowski said that a focus of the meeting will be a successful leadership program tailored for women that was presented at the United Nations last year and also will be featured at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in August.

The Rev. Canon Gary Hall, chair of the Program Group on Mission Congregations, said the group is getting ready for the next round of mission development fund applications (for grants to mission congregations from the diocese). It is working on making the process more “user-friendly” for the mission congregations, he said, and also on bringing compensation for vicars up to diocesan standards; the latter goal may be more viable, he said, when the 12% assessment is established.

On the matter of clergy compensation, Taylor commented that the coming assessment might be seen as “an invitation to the diocesan community to understand that being in a diocesan family – being in any kind of a community rooted in the values of the Risen One – is to have networks of mutual accountability and responsibility; that some parts of the body are better provisioned by the world and its wealth and riches than other parts and that we have in our diocesan community thriving institutions, which depend upon us in ways that richer ones never will have to; and that we need to redistribute the wealth. And this is part and parcel of the conversations we’re having with some of the churches that are resisting the 12%, because they’ve got considerable means and they have resources outside of the plate and pledge. So again, as so many things we do are, it’s a formation issue.”

Planned reports from The Gathering: A Space for Asian American Spirituality and the Program Group on Communications were deferred due to scheduling issues. Canon Bob Williams, canon for common life, said that the program group’s new co-chairs – the Rev. Carlos Ruvalcaba of St. Stephen’s Church, Hollywood, and St. Be’s, Eagle Rock; and Hannah Riley, associate for congregational life at Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel – will give a report at the June council meeting.

Williams also reported that the Program Group on Ecumenical and Interfaith Life, chaired by Dot Leach of St. John Chrysostom Church, Rancho Santa Margarita, hopes to extend its work into the various geographical areas of the diocese and strengthen congregations that are doing local interfaith and ecumenical ministry. The program group, he said, is looking for lay persons and clergy persons with expertise in such ministries; suggestions may be emailed to Williams at bwilliams@ladiocese.org.

Canon Steve Nishibayashi, secretary of convention, reported that 183 days remained until the next convention, to be held on Nov. 10 – 11 in Riverside. He also said that 17 congregations of the diocese have not yet started the process of filing their parochial reports, which are canonically required and provide vital information to both the diocese and the wider Episcopal Church. Although the online portal for filing reports with The Episcopal Church closed May 1, reports may be sent to Nishibayashi’s office (snishibayashi@ladiocese.org or swylie@ladiocese.org).

The Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, canon to the ordinary, also emphasized the importance of filing parochial reports. She encouraged congregations to send their reports to the secretary of convention “even if the [Episcopal Church] portal is closed, because we want your parochial information. It helps us immensely. So please, please, please; parochial reports.”

McCarthy reported that this year’s Clergy Conference, held May 1 – 3 at the Mission Inn in Riverside, was highly successful, with a well-received presentation by author and Episcopalian Debie Thomas. She also said that ordinations to the diaconate will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 10 at St. John’s Cathedral.

Bishop’s report

Bishop Taylor told council that the diocese’s plan to build affordable housing on 25% of its properties will soon get a boost with the hiring of a housing coordinator, to be funded by Episcopal Communities and Services.

“This will be someone whose full-time job will be to work with you and the other institutions in your deanery that are interested in doing or have decided to do affordable housing,” he said. “Because it’s not easy. It’s complicated. It’s detail-oriented work. But what we’re going to do is contribute to the sustainability of our whole diocese, particularly the places where we have affordable housing projects. And by the time we’re done, we’re going to give four to five thousand of our neighbors places to lay their heads. So watch The Episcopal News for news of that appointment.”

The housing initiative is already well under way, Taylor said, with one project open (in Riverside), one under construction (in Placentia) and one hoping to be approved at the next meeting of the Corporation of the Diocese (Buena Park). Ten additional projects are on the drawing board and at least 20 more are being considered, he added.

Taylor’s second subject was Christian formation, framed by the question, “What do we mean by imago dei? What do we mean when we say that all people are made in the image of God? What do we say when we pledge whenever we have baptisms and confirmations and receptions that we’re going to respect the dignity of every human being? And as citizens and in our case, Christian citizens, what do we mean when we say that we want a political culture that ensures liberty and justice for all; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all?”

The bishop referenced an incident at All Saints Church, Pasadena, which early in May received a bomb threat and a death threat directed at church leaders, specifically referring to the “LGBTQ-supporting pastor.” The following Sunday, May 7, Taylor joined what he called “a holy host” of religious leaders from many denominations and other faiths at the church for its regular worship services, which included, he said, “a stem-winding sermon by Mike Kinman,” together with a rally in support of LGBTQ rights.

“Do we really embrace full equity, equality, radical inclusion across all barriers of orientation, identification, race, and ethnicity? Are we at long last going to decide that these questions need to be settled questions, so that we can go on and be less distracted by these issues of identity and more distracted by decisions we have to make about how to run our church and how to run our polities?”

Taylor also noted that GLEAM, the LGBTQ+ ministry of the diocese, will hold its annual garden party on Sunday, May 21, 2 – 5 p.m., at the episcopal residence in Pasadena. For information, see the Episcopal News Update or email gleamlainfo@gmail.com.

Nishibayashi reported that the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of a Presiding Bishop, which he co-chairs, would on May 15 release a profile and links for nominations to be voted on by the House of Bishops at the June 2024 General Convention, to be held in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dan Valdez said that the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union will hold its annual meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at St. Paul’s Commons. He commended to the council the recent article by credit union board member Jennifer Miramontes that outlines extensive improvements to its services being rolled out as it begins its 30th year of operation.

The next meeting of Diocesan Council will be held via Zoom at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 8.