[The Episcopal News] From June 22 to 28, Southern and Central Californians will join an estimated 10,000 people – bishops, deputies, volunteers, media, exhibitors, vendors, Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, and other guests in “Derby City” – at the 81st General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Attendees will enjoy worship and opportunities for connection, while deputies and bishops will consider hundreds of proposed resolutions involving racial justice and reconciliation, LGBTQ+ advocacy, Israel-Palestine, gun violence, ageism, church vitality, the environment, prayer book revision, economic justice, laity formation, theological education, and the budget for the next triennium.

They can expect busy days attending joint and individual sessions of both houses – Deputies and Bishops – sandwiched between early morning and late-night legislative committee meetings. There will be (predicted) 80-degree moderate temperatures and opportunities for entertainment in Louisville, known as the home of Muhammad Ali, the Kentucky Derby, and the Louisville Slugger.

Bishops and deputies from 108 Episcopal Church dioceses and three mission areas in 22 countries or territories will welcome a new presiding bishop, elected by the House of Bishops from a slate of five, as the Most Rev. Michael Curry concludes his nine-year term. The House of Deputies also will elect its next president from three candidates.

L.A.’s ‘giant footprint’ at convention; presiding officer elections

Bishop Diocesan John Harvey Taylor is pictured at the recent Clergy Conference. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

Bishop John Harvey Taylor, who co-chairs Bishops’ Legislative Committee 6 on Social Justice and International Affairs, said he is proud of “L.A.’s giant footprint” at the upcoming convention, including “our diverse and brilliant cohort of deputies” as well as the Rev. Lester Mackenzie, serving a fourth time as chaplain to the House of Deputies, and lay deputy Thomas Diaz, set to moderate a June 21 livestream conversation with presiding bishop candidates.

Diaz, along with Angelenos the Rev. Antonio Gallardo and Secretary of Convention Canon Steve Nishibayashi, served on the Joint Nominating Committee for Election of the Next Presiding Bishop. Nishibayashi co-chaired the committee, which produced a slate of four: Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker; Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutierrez; Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright; and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as provisional bishop of Western New York. A fifth candidate, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, was added later by petition.

“Each day I feel the blessing and responsibility of being among the relatively small group that will send the name of the next presiding bishop to the House of Deputies for its consideration,” Taylor said. “We have five amazing candidates, all of whom I’ve come to know well or see in action, and … the Holy Spirit will do what she will.”

The candidates’ names will be formally submitted to convention during a June 25 joint session, a day before the bishops are scheduled to vote.

At least two candidates will challenge incumbent Julia Ayala Harris, who was elected President of the House of Deputies in 2022. The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, vice president of the House of Deputies, and Zena Link, an educator and union organizer who previously served on Executive Council, also seek the presiding officer role. A forum with the presidential candidates is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 21 in Louisville.

Online testimony before legislative committees is underway, in the vital form of listening, Taylor said. “We’ve heard stirring, wise, gut-wrenching testimony in our Zoom meetings so far” about Israel-Gaza. “Our goal will be to do our best to ensure that convention can authentically express its heart, mind, and spirit, notwithstanding the complexities and nuances of the struggle to ensure freedom, peace, security, and national self-determination for all in the region.”

Los Angeles representatives to General Convention

Lester Mackenzie

The Rev. Lester Mackenzie, chaplain to the House of Deputies

  • Rector, St. Mary’s Church, Laguna Beach
  • Three-time deputy (2012-2018), four-time chaplain to House of Deputies
  • Candidate for Executive Council

As chaplain, Mackenzie says he is looking forward yet again to holding deputies “and their loved ones in prayer as they do the deep work of putting their heart, mind, and spirit into resolutions … (which) will offer a roadmap for the next three years until we gather again for the 2027 convention.

“It’s really about listening, watching, and actively seeing what is happening on the floor in real time,” he said. “I will lean deeper into the Holy Spirit and interconnectedness, forging new paths forward. The gift of serving as chaplain is that I can take all that is happening and focus it clearly, out loud, for deputies, alternates, visitors, and anyone who’s really sharing that sacred space.”

Melissa McCarthy

The Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, clergy deputy

  • Canon to the Ordinary
  • Los Angeles deputation chair
  • Four-time deputy (serving at three conventions). Assigned to Special Legislative Committee 21, Dispatch of Business

The Dispatch of Business committee proposes the daily agenda and calendar for the House, and also schedules special orders of business and elections.

“My role on that committee is to be the liaison to Deputies’ Legislative Committee 18 on the Title IV Disciplinary Canons,” which receives and proposes resolutions regarding church disciplinary canons and procedures, McCarthy said.

“I am tracking closely with Title IV, of course, and there are some interesting pieces of legislation there that make some significant changes to the process (hopefully for the better!),” she added.

And the most fun part of convention? “Seeing colleagues and friends from across The Episcopal Church and, most especially, spending some real time with our deputation,” McCarthy said. “We have a great deputation, and I am excited to see what everyone brings to our work,” including convention volunteer supervisors like the Rev. Kate Lewis, the Rev. Pat Hendrick and the Very Rev. Keith Yamamoto, rector of St. Mark’s Church, Upland. Episcopal News Editor Canon Janet Kawamoto also will attend and provide daily convention reports. In addition, Solomon Galan, a member of St. Luke’s Church, Long Beach will be a Province 8 youth delegate at the convention.

Fennie Chang

The Rev. Fennie Chang, clergy deputy

  • Vicar, St. Thomas Church, Hacienda Heights
  • Two-time deputy, assigned to Committee No. 4, World Mission

Chang, a member of the diocesan Global Mission Ministry, said she is interested in resolutions seeking to counter a colonial mindset, deepening Anglican Communion connections, and serving as a voice for L.A. diocesan programming and interests.

“As a female clergyperson of color, I’ve been realizing our voices need to be heard more, and not just at the diocesan level but especially at General Convention,” said Chang, who is Taiwanese. Encouraging others “not to give up any opportunity to make your voice heard or to stand out on behalf of your racial group or those issues that you think more people need to care for more,” is essential, she added.

Antonio Gallardo

The Rev. Antonio Gallardo, clergy deputy

  • Rector, St. Luke’s Church in Long Beach
  • Two-time deputy, member of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop

Gallardo is seeking conversations about changes in the church representing “significant shifts of who we are, and how we do business,” he said. He will be following resolutions dealing with climate change, governance (the effectiveness of the current structure and its alignment with the current needs), the expansion of liturgical resources beyond the BCP, racial reconciliation, reparations and colonialism, and considerations to improve Title IV effectiveness.

Serving as a member of the JNCPB “gave me hope about the future of our church being not only more diverse, but more importantly, in ensuring that all those diverse voices are heard when making critical decisions – like selecting nominees for the presiding bishop,” he added. “In the past three years, I learned from my fellow committee members about the realities of our church in various settings, the challenges and blessings, as well as all the great work being done.

“Contrary to what some may say, being part of the committee reaffirmed for me that we are not a dying church, and that God still needs us – maybe in a different way than in the past – for people to embrace God’s underserved and unearned grace.”

Rachel Nyback

The Rev. Rachel Nyback, clergy deputy

  • Rector, St. Cross Church, Hermosa Beach
  • Second-time deputy, assigned to Deputies’ Committee 18, Title IV Disciplinary Canons

The committee’s work “encompasses revisions to the Title IV disciplinary canons, as well as group insurance, which “could have a profound effect on the Diocese of L.A.’s insurance costs, and perhaps choices,” Nyback said. “One of the adjustments I am looking forward to coming to fruition is firm deadlines within which certain steps of the Title IV process must take place.
She added: “The changes that we make to our canons, the decisions we vote on, from diversity, equity, and inclusion, to creation care to liturgy, are important to how we do church. I have watched decisions that we made at the last General Convention played out at a national and local level. I am grateful to be part of a church that allows for diverse voice and vote as we make decisions for the Church writ large. I thank the Diocese of Los Angeles for electing me to serve as a deputy.”

Kathryn Nishibayashi

Kathryn Nishibayashi, lay deputy

  • Lay leader and parishioner at St. Mary’s, Mariposa, in Koreatown (Los Angeles)
  • Operations Administrator for the Kaleidoscope Institute
  • Five-time deputy, assigned to Deputies’ Committee 10, Prayerbook, Liturgy and Music
  • Member of the President of the House of Deputies Council of Advice
  • Chair of the Deputies’ State of the Church Committee

Committee 10 has broken its work into three subcommittees focusing on the prayer book, calendar and music. “So far, the calendar subcommittee is addressing additions and deletions to the calendar of commemorations in Lesser Feasts and Fasts,” Nishibayashi said. “The BCP subcommittee is addressing things like liturgies for commemorating the end of slavery, alternative texts for Good Friday, an expansive language version of Eucharistic Prayer C, and the first reading of including the rites for Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (that were authorized for trial use) into the BCP.”

Deliberation of the music subcommittee, to which she was appointed, will address such issues as a resolution for a new supplement to the 1982 Hymnal and another, authorizing “alternative versions of hymns that address issues of problematic wording to be made available.”

She noted that a resolution only becomes an act of convention if approved by both houses in the exact same wording. But if the committee votes to approve the resolution, then it will be sent to the whole convention either via the consent calendar or the legislative calendar for debate on the floor of the house.”

Andy Tomat

Canon Andy Tomat, lay deputy

  • Treasurer of the diocese (volunteer)
  • Parishioner at St. B’s, Eagle Rock, and St. Stephen’s, Hollywood
  • Two-time deputy

Tomat said he intends to monitor the budget process, focusing on support for aided dioceses such as the Navajoland Area Mission and a movement to reduce diocesan assessments to the wider church. Currently, the L.A. diocese is assessed $709,494, or 15% of the diocese’s 2022 total normal operating income of $4.8 million. Another l.35% of diocesan NOI from two years prior, or $16,555 is paid to Province VIII, he said.

In what is expected to be a controversial issue, some groups are advocating a return to the former 18% assessment on dioceses’ budgets, while others want to reduce assessments to as low as 10%, which, Tomat said, “would eliminate all but the core staff of The Episcopal Church and cause a lot of programs we participate in to be defunded.”

Like Nyback, he will follow proposed changes to the denominational health care plan, “in which all the staff and clergy in the church nationwide are participants.” There is a proposal to restructure the plan so everyone pays the same rates, which could severely affect the Los Angeles diocese.

“Dioceses like L.A., with a high cost of health care and an older population and relatively rich benefits compared to other dioceses” enjoy the subsidies provided by the current plan, Tomat said.

He added: “I just want to do my part to represent the diocese and to represent especially any potential fiscal concerns we might have.”

Thomas Diaz

Thomas Diaz, lay deputy

  • Director of Connections and Care, All Saints Church, Pasadena
  • Two-time deputy, assigned to Deputies’ Committee 7, Social Justice and U.S. Policy
  • Member of the JNCPB and the Standing Commission for World Mission

Diaz is eagerly looking forward to both elections as well as conversations addressing gun safety and “the harm of gun violence in this nation,” as well as Resolution A081, combating the rise of Christian nationalism, which he co-authored.

“We‘re a global church and … our siblings in Taiwan and the Philippines are dealing with their own version of rising nationalism in their religious context” as much as we are, he said. “The resolution is trying to signal that we need more education throughout the church.”

Alan Herendich

Alan Herendich, lay deputy

  • School bus driver
  • Lay leader, St. Columba’s Episcopal / Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church, Big Bear
  • First-time deputy, fourth General Convention

Although a frequent delegate to diocesan convention, Herendich has only been a visitor to General Conventions until now. He is “hoping to see if anything comes out of the convention that points to a change of direction for the church in becoming more responsive to what’s going on in the world.

“I consider myself one of the common folks, who have managed to work my way into being a deputy,” he added. “It strikes me that the deputies who have gone before are financially well off, fairly stable and can afford to take the time and do it. I’m on social security – no other retirement.

Alternate Deputies

Kelli Grace Kurtz

For the Rev. Canon Kelli Grace Kurtz, rector of All Saints Church in Riverside, serving as first clergy alternate deputy “is a gig I enjoy.” While not assigned to a committee, she intends to attend hearings and committee meetings, report back to the deputation and be a runner for them. “I am looking forward to the discussion on updating the language around baptism before communion and Open Table, the proposal to commemorate Bishop Barbara Harris, and, of course, the election of the next presiding bishop.

Dominique Piper

It will be the first convention for the Rev. Dominique Piper, second clergy alternate, who serves as a deacon at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia, and is looking forward to the elections. “I would ask people to pray for the safety of everyone gathered, especially as we travel.

“Please pray for discernment for the church regarding the various resolutions and especially for the bishops as they elect our new presiding bishop. I would also encourage those who have never gotten involved before to learn about the process and consider getting involved and adding your voice in the local and national Church because as part of the Body of Christ, you’ve always mattered.”

Guy Leemhuis

Louisville will be the third General Convention attended by the Rev. Guy Leemhuis, third clergy alternate, who is assigned to Deputies’ Special Legislative Committee 22, Certification of Minutes, which reviews and, if needed, corrects the minutes of the previous legislative day, and reports on their completion to the house.

Anticipating the election of the presiding bishop, Leemhuis is “pleased that a woman was added to the slate. All of the candidates have their strengths. It will be interesting to see what the Holy Spirit discerns.”

The next PB and the church will face significant challenges, including a shortage of clergy, “and the need for more church planting and resurrection thinking and merging,” Leemhuis said. “The rocky road is that we are still struggling to love our neighbor and to share our neighbor because people don’t embrace their neighbors.”

Leemhuis also will attend the Union of Black Episcopalians’ 56th annual meeting and conference June 18 – 21 in Louisville.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson, alternate lay deputy, will be attending her second General Convention; the first was in Anaheim in 2009, where she was a volunteer supervisor for the concurrent Women’s Triennial meeting. “I’m really looking forward to observing, learning, and participating in the actual business of Convention, especially the election of a new presiding bishop,” said Cameron, who co-chairs the diocesan Commission on Ministry. She attends St. Cross Church in Hermosa Beach and serves as its connection coordinator. “I’m very curious to hear what the nominees have to say about themselves and their vision of the future of the Episcopal Church. And, if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on some tasty Kentucky BBQ!

“Some of the things I’m most interested in are the work of the Standing Commission on Formation and Ministry development, anti-harassment policies, and inclusive pathways for translation and LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

General Convention is an experience everyone should have, Lester Mackenzie told The News. “Folks who have not experienced General Convention underestimate the amount of time, energy, spirit, focus, resilience, strength, and courage it takes just to navigate the calendar and familiarize oneself with the procedure. But what a gift it is to be with one another in ministry. What a gift to be reunited, recharged, and going back out into the world, hopefully refreshed, prayed over, and strengthened, so we can keep being followers of Jesus in a world in need of healing.”