[The Episcopal News] Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor opened the Sept. 14, meeting of Diocesan Council with prayer amid “the heartbreaking losses” of both vice-chancellor Canon Julie Dean Larsen and the Rev. Canon Ginny Erwin, a former rector of Trinity Church in Orange, who died earlier in the week.

Larsen, a member of St. Margaret’s Church in San Juan Capistrano, had also represented the Los Angeles diocese as a lay deputy to General Convention. Erwin had also served as a former archdeacon for Clergy Deployment and Development in the diocese.

The council, meeting via Zoom, heard that a fully balanced proposed diocesan budget for 2024 has been prepared by the Joint Budget Committee, Treasurer Canon Andy Tomat, and diocesan finance staff – the earliest in any year such a document has been ready, according to Taylor. The council also received reports from the Bishop’s Commission on Gospel Justice and Community Care, and a preview of the Sept. 16 summit on Climate Change (see related story).

Bishop’s Commission on Gospel Justice; Climate Change Summit

Expect to see commission members advocating for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training at “Love in Action, for Healing, Housing, and Hope,” the Nov. 10 – 11 annual diocesan convention in Riverside, and creating awareness about California Senate Bill 988, according to Sister Patricia Sarah Terry, commission chair.

Founded by Bishop John Harvey Taylor in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the commission’s mission is “to bring the church’s attention to the places in our law enforcement and legal systems, particularly those involving race and mental health, which are not in alignment with the Gospel message, and to support activities that will bring the Gospel message to bear upon them,” she said. The May 25, 2020, murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, sparked worldwide protest and a national reckoning on systemic racism.

MHFA is a national program that teaches the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse. Terry commended the ministry of the Rev. Brian Tucker, a commission member, who teaches the course and described it in the July issue of Angelus, the diocesan clergy newsletter.

The commission also advocated for passage of Senate Bill 988, known as the Miles Hall Lifeline Act, which establishes 988 as an emergency call line for those experiencing mental health issues. A town hall meeting organized by the commission included national leaders like U.S. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Orange County), community law enforcement and mental health leaders, and Taun Hall. The death of Hall’s son Miles, 23, a young Black man who suffered from mental illness, in Walnut Creek, California, sparked AB988. Despite the family’s efforts to keep their son safe by establishing a prior relationship with local law enforcement, Miles was killed during a mental health episode in 2019 within minutes after police arrived.

“Under AB-988, call centers have been established whereby dialing 988, there is at least a chance that a mental health professional will be sent either instead of or in partnership with law enforcement,” Terry said.

Challenges remain, however. “Unfortunately, there is not enough funding to fully staff this effort with mental health professionals. There are also not enough mental health resources to offer long term care for those who need it,” she said. The commission also operates without a budget.

But there is some progress: the group also met recently with and hopes to partner with Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Community Safety Karren Lane to establish listening centers “where communities of faith provide space for the community to come and share their concerns about safety,” said Terry. “What makes them feel safe? How to they see the role of policing in their communities? It will be different for each one. The information collected will be used to create public safety policy.” The Rev. Canon Jaime Edwards-Acton, a commission member, has already offered to help create a listening center.

Deanery 1 has committed to fund an MHFA facilitator to offer local training, as part of the commission’s educational component, she added. “The issue is funding. It costs $2,200 to receive this training. If people want to become facilitators, we need to support them,” possibly with assistance from the wider Episcopal Church, which has established a task force on mental health.

The commission’s Facebook page also lists resources for mental health justice, the unhoused, alternatives to incarceration and faith-based solutions for responding to mental health crises. “Statistics say that one out of five adults will experience a mental health crisis in any given year, ranging from situational anxiety or depression to serious mental illness,” said Terry. “They are still part of our community. So, the more we can all learn to hear and see them in helpful ways, the better off we will all be.”

The Rev. Tim Hartley, a member of the Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change, reported that at least 70 guests were expected in person and another 40 had registered for online participation in the Sept. 16 Climate Change Summit at St. Paul’s Commons, featuring Lucy Jones, founder and chief scientist of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society. See related story here.

Finance Report

Treasurer Canon Andy Tomat reported that 71 of 89 parishes have sent in their 2023 Mission Share Fund financial commitments with an average giving rate of close to 10% of total normal operating income. Eight parishes have contacted the bishop and Diocesan Council regarding their ability to get to the 12% in 2023 and some may ask for hardship waivers in 2024.

Tomat also reported a $1 million shortfall in both consolidated diocesan income and expenses through July 2023. Expected income for grant-funded programs such as the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service (IRIS), Seeds of Hope, and the Center for Lay Chaplaincy/Prism “came in $800,000 below expectations,” he said. Corresponding program-related expenses were also reduced. “All are managed to run on a sustainable break-even basis without MSF or Corporation of the Diocese support,” Tomat said. Excluding the grant-funded programs, the diocese is running on a near break-even basis through July.

Joint Budget Committee’s 2024 goals; a balanced draft budget

Tomat also commended the work of the Joint Budget Committee, who started their work looking at a $500,000 deficit budget, based on submitted budget requests, and through careful discernment of each request was able to develop a budget for Corporation of the Diocese and Diocesan Council consideration that is balanced at its first presentation.

This budget also meets Taylor’s four key goals for 2024:

  • continued funding for New Community Ministries serving congregations of Asian, African, Chinese, Korean, and Native American descent;
  • resolution of longstanding pay inequities among diocesan staff;
  • staffing for new housing and development offices;
  • expanding the ministry of the Rev. Canon Susan Russell to include a much-needed chaplaincy to retired bishops, deacons, and priests as well as the spouses and partners of clergy members who have died.

If approved by diocesan bodies and convention, the budget will ensure “that vicars of mission congregations are paid at or above the new diocesan minimum standard and resolve longstanding pay inequities in the diocesan staff and provide for a 4% across-the-board cost-of-living increase.”

The budget also includes a higher diocesan assessment. As a diocese, “this year we are paying $784,108 as our diocesan assessment to The Episcopal Church, based on 15% of our 2021 total normal operating income, plus $16,751 to our local province,” Tomat explained. “In 2024 we will be paying $860,700 since our 2022 total net operating income was higher. Both years include $66,182 of added assessments due to the PPP income we recognized in 2021, which we were granted grace by Executive Council to pay over three years.”

Tomat noted the JBC estimated that the 12% mandatory MSF assessments for parishes will add about $350,000 in income. “Parishes are averaging close to 10%, so in aggregate all we are getting is 2% more from the parishes,” he said, adding that most of that additional 2% will be used to implement clergy compensation minimums approved at last year’s convention. Mission congregations pay 10% of plate and pledge contributions plus another 5% in other assessments.

Because the economy experienced a decline from 2021 to 2022, the assessments, based on total normal operating income from two years’ prior, are also lower, as evidenced in the 67 of 89 parochial reports that have been submitted thus far, he said. This was factored into the $350,000 increase estimate.

“We also recognized that many of our smaller parishes may find this jump particularly difficult and will need to ask for some leniency,” Tomat told council. “Along with the move to mandatory assessments, the bishop announced the appointment of an assessment review team being convened by the Rev. Rachel Nyback. This team will develop a process for parishes to submit requests for assessment waivers to a review board that will make recommendations to council, the only group authorized to grant such waivers.”

Receiving parochial reports in a timely fashion is critical for future budgeting, Tomat said, and asked the council to increase efforts at compliance. “We have a number of parishes at or beyond the three-year limit to submit their parochial reports and audits and are placing their right to seat, voice and vote at convention in jeopardy.”

Other reports

The Rev. Rachel Nyback reported for the Corporation of the Diocese and the Rev. Lester Mackenzie reported for the Standing Committee regarding approval of: a loan request for St. Luke’s, La Crescenta; a three-year lease agreement for St. Mary’s, Lompoc; a one-year license agreement for St. Gregory’s, Long Beach; and a draft memorandum of understanding for a ground lease agreement for St. Ambrose, Claremont, for affordable housing for seniors.

Additionally, the Standing Committee approved the ordination to the diaconate of Paula Walker, Mackenzie said.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall reported that the Program Group on Mission Congregations received 24 mission development grant applications for 2024. It has recommended 17 grants totaling about $602,000; and six requests are still pending.

Thomas Diaz expressed condolences on behalf of the General Convention Deputation on the death of Deputy Canon Julie Dean Larsen. He said a letter will be sent in support of President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris, who in August announced she was the complainant in a Title IV proceeding concerning a retired bishop and was dissatisfied with the outcome of the process.

Diaz referred council to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s pastoral response to the complaint.

Canon Steve Nishibayashi, secretary of convention, said church audits were due Sept. 1. Only 37 churches have updated lay delegate information, which needs to be submitted right away, he said.

Information for diocesan convention, including hotel accommodates and dinner tickets, is on the website. Four resolutions have been received for consideration by convention, and will be published on the convention website (www.diocesela.org/convention) after committee review. They include ordination commemorations for Florence Li Tim Oi (80 years) and the Philadelphia Eleven (50 years); a companion relationship between the dioceses of Los Angeles and Taiwan; and designation of Sunday honoring HFS Services, the adoption and foster care agency that is an institution of the diocese.

Nishibayashi, who along with Diaz and the Rev. Antonio Gallardo sits on the Joint Committee to Elect a Presiding Bishop, said the committee is no longer receiving names for Curry’s successor. A slate of at least three bishops will be announced in April 2024, there will be a process to submit nominees by petition, he said.

Canon for Common Life Bob Williams reported that about $283,000 has been raised by more than 200 donors for the One Body, One Spirit Annual Appeal, which assists congregations in need, mostly of physical plant upgrades. The last round of grants was made in June, he said, and the next application deadline is Nov. 1 for December awards.

Reports from the bishop and canon to the ordinary

The Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy encouraged attendance at the Climate Change Summit and offered support for the Bloy House Lay Chaplaincy training programs.

“The Center for Lay Chaplaincy graduated their first class of lay chaplains and wanted to certify them in some way,” she said. “As we experience churches that have fewer clergy and do not have resources for full-time clergy and are looking at supply priests or priests that come every other weekend, we are recognizing the need to have well-trained lay people who can lead worship and preach; things we typically rely on priests to do.”

Bloy House is offering training for congregational lay eucharistic ministers. The Episcopal Church also requires anyone trained in any kind of leadership or ministry position to complete sexual misconduct prevention training and anti-racism training.

Taylor said he plans to attend the Sept. 19026 online House of Bishops meeting and asked for prayers for Curry, who undergoes surgery Sept. 20. (See update on Curry’s condition here.)

The meeting will include discussion in support of President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris’s dissatisfaction with the Title IV process, along with complaints lodged against other bishops.

“The impression was beginning to take form that bishops, when accused of misconduct under Title IV, were not being subjected to as transparent and as reliable a process as deacons and priests,” said Taylor, who signed a letter in support of improving the Title IV process for bishops that was authored by San Diego Bishop Susan Snook Brown and other Province VIII women bishops.
Taylor also commended the work of the Rev. Michael Bell, ECS’s vice president for housing and business development, who has identified 14 possible church sites for additional affordable housing for seniors.

“We have undertaken to build affordable housing on 25%, or 33 of our campuses,” Taylor said. “One project (St. Michael’s, Riverside) is open. A second (Blessed Sacrament, Placentia) is almost complete and we held a third groundbreaking at St. Joseph’s, Buena Park.”

Although parishes facing fiscal challenges might be tempted to sell property to increase endowments or generate revenue, “we are doing are best to discourage that approach. We want to work with parishes to find more creative ways to preserve property. We want them to be there in 40 to 50 years, to see what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the future.”

Diocesan council will meet next online at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct.19.