[The Episcopal News] Samantha “Sam” Wylie is eagerly anticipating “leaning into the family reunion spirit of diocesan convention” in Riverside Nov. 11 – 12, including a Friday s’mores reception on the convention center plaza and “a dinner that’s going to be fun and delicious, a full exhibit hall, guests and visitors – all the fun things we did before,” she recently told The Episcopal News.
“It’s exciting to start getting back to normalcy; we did our best in 2020 [at a pandemic-forced virtual convention]. Now we get to do more of the fun stuff,” said Wylie, who began meticulously planning for the hybrid 127th annual meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles nearly as soon as last year’s scaled-down convention concluded.
As convention coordinator and secretary to Diocesan Council, Wylie has been called the “go-to” person for all things pre- and post-convention and monthly council meetings; a “superstar” and a “Jedi Master of organization and an Energizer Bunny of implementation” with an endless supply of patience if – and when – things may not go exactly according to plan.
The mother of 10-year-old Valentine, and stepmom of soon-to-be 18-year-old Jett also is a green belt in karate, a gamester, techie, and foodie, with astute mediation skills. She put the latter to use when an upgrade to the kitchen at her parish, St. Andrew’s Church in Fullerton, threatened to stall Friday night dinners that weekly feed 70 of the area’s hungry – a ministry Wylie also leads.
“She negotiated us working from another church down the street. She negotiated a whole way for us to keep going and feeding people,” recalled Melissa Rigler, St. Andrew’s senior warden.
“She jumped in strong, with a lot of energy. She’s such a doer,” Rigler said. “A lot of people talk, or they might be good at getting others to help. But Sam just does stuff.”
Bishop John Harvey Taylor agreed. “No one did more to get us through the thicket of the pandemic than Sam Wylie. As secretary of Diocesan Council and convention coordinator, she has been unfailingly cheerful, reassuring and well organized. When Sam’s on the Zoom, you know all will be well!”
Assembling Convention’s puzzling parts
Planning convention is like piecing together a puzzle, says Marge Cooley, director of the diocesan altar guild, who with Wylie coordinates the gathering’s Eucharist for hundreds. “It takes a lot of people, each one of whom is responsible for a piece of that puzzle.
“Samantha is masterful in pulling all those pieces together so that by the time convention opens, we have a cohesive, seamless picture,” Cooley said. “Convention would not flow as smoothly as it does without her skillful hands guiding us in putting it together.”
Pulling together all the parts of convention begins long before delegates arrive in Riverside. Wylie oversees pre- and post-convention arrangements and logistics, including a comprehensive schedule of organizing monthly planning meetings, serving as a go-between for diocesan needs and convention center staff, managing nominations and resolutions, processing delegate forms, tracking parochial reports and audits, even shaping a new internet presence and transferring it to the diocesan website.
“Kudos to Sam Wylie for the work she did” in rapidly converting the former convention website and migrating it to the new location, a cost savings for the diocese, Secretary of Convention Canon Nishibayashi said at the Oct. 20 meeting of Diocesan Council.
“It took quite a bit of work on her part to make that conversion, but it is now saving money by having it be part of the diocesan website and not separate,” he said. “It has all the forms for elective offices, nominations, hotel reservations, dinner reservations. It’s all there, within the diocesan convention page of the website.”
Wylie also coordinates floor plans for exhibitors and delegates alike; and set up an online shopping cart on the website so guests may choose from “exciting and delicious” options from the Friday night dinner menu: “a spring salad; choice of harissa chicken or kobe beef meatloaf and a vegetarian option of four-cheese lasagna roulade, with mango and passionfruit mousse cake for dessert.”
Similarly, as secretary, she creates and emails agendas to deanery representatives, diocesan staff, guests, and others attending Diocesan Council monthly meetings. The council, a body of elected representatives that oversees and shapes diocesan programming between conventions, typically meets on the second Thursday of each month.
“She takes care of notifying the bishop [about] who is going to be absent, who might be filling in for them, arranges all the appendices and attachments,” Nisibayashi said. “She’s compulsive in an appropriate way, tracking canons and deadlines.
At the Oct. 20 council meeting, Wylie interjected a quick correction to Nishibayashi’s report, noting that the only elective diocesan office without a nominee was lay member of Standing Committee. Nishibayashi good-naturedly praised her input. “Yep, there it is,” he said. “Thanks for the correction, Sam. You’re on top of stuff in the moment.”
Wylie’s skills and gifts are matched only by her energy and dedication, he told The Episcopal News. “If Sam says she’s going to do something, you can jolly well count on it getting done, and she does a magnificent job. She is teamwork par excellence, a joy to work with, and I’m grateful for her.”
A wide range of duties, abilities
Wylie also extends her expertise to other departments and ministries.
“As recently as last night, she was helping [diocesan canon for engagement across difference, the Rev. Canon] Susan Russell with her Christian Nationalism three-week forum,” Nishibayashi said. “She was able to make things happen so Susan could concentrate on content, rather than function.”
For the last year and a half, Wylie has assisted IRIS, the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service, and Seeds of Hope, two of the diocese’s largest ministries, with administrative and financial support.
And she’s a part-time employee.
Russell, who along with the Rev. Michelle Baker-Wright and the Rev. Kay Sylvester coordinates diocesan liturgies with Wylie, called her “a true delight. She has a unique combination of skill sets that make her a Jedi Master of organization and an Energizer Bunny of implementation – all with a seemingly endless supply of patience.”
Baker-Wright agreed. “I’m grateful for Sam’s calm, steady presence in the midst of all that she handles in organizing and adapting diocesan convention to online and hybrid formats. This would be no mean feat at any point in time, let alone during a pandemic. She keeps it all in motion with an equilibrium that helps us focus and collaborate.”
Wylie is a “superstar,” says Canon Kathy O’Connor, who coordinates the clergy spouses and partners’ group. “Convention is one of my favorite diocesan activities, due in large part to the incredible care that Samantha puts into every aspect of planning and executing this complicated undertaking.
“I have been so impressed by her ability to ensure that clergy spouses and partners always have a special place at convention, while also managing and overseeing just about every piece of the convention puzzle. She is a superstar, and we are blessed that she is part of the extraordinary EDLA team.”
Canon Abigail “Gail” Urquidi, canon for Congregational Support, has “had the privilege to work with Sam in the Bishop’s office and in the finance department,” she said.
“You can put her in any department, and she gets the job done!” Urquidi said enthusiastically. “Most important are her gifts and passions as convention coordinator, working side by side with our secretary of convention to help make every diocesan convention a success. She is very organized and always so patient and accommodating to everyone’s needs. Her dedication and determination help get us through every convention. I appreciate her very much and the effort she puts in. We are so blessed and extremely grateful to have her.”
Diocesan Finance Director the Rev. Susan Stanton agreed: “Sam is an outstanding staff member with a tremendous capacity for detail and a true asset of the diocese.”
Capital campaign organizer Jessica Savage, CCS Fundraising senior director, called Wylie “the go-to person when it comes to convention. With an event this dynamic, being the point person is no easy undertaking and she is the exact person for the job. She is extremely organized, adaptable and a high-functioning executer. Each year is a success because of her care and efforts!”
For Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy, Wylie is “a wonderful colleague. She is organized and thorough. I always know whatever she is handling will be done well and done on time. Sam has a clear call to service. She is responsive and thoughtful, tenacious, and creative. She is always coming up with new ideas to make things run more smoothy and effortlessly and her cheerful spirit makes her a blast to work with.”
A devoted family and church member
Before Taylor invited Wylie in 2019 to serve as convention coordinator, she and a sister-in-law operated the “Pig and Pepper Kitchen,” a meal preparation and special event catering service. “It was very successful, but it was a good time to close the business,” Wylie recalled. “It prepared me for what I’m doing now. It’s a strange and wide skill set.”
She is married to Brad, a published author and the son of retired Secretary of Convention Canon Janet Wylie. “He writes RPG games and sometimes I help with that, writing and editing,” she said.
The couple “loves to play games,” and recently launched a gaming ministry at St. Andrew’s, according to Rigler, senior warden. “In conjunction with another couple and our Sunday School teacher, they are starting a game night at the church for kids. It ranges from board games to video games, all within a Christian context.”
Wylie also fundraised to renovate the church’s outdated kitchen and “took over the role of running the soup kitchen at a very difficult time,” Rigler said. “She cares very deeply for feeding the hungry. She’s very upbeat and the volunteers love it because it’s a thriving ministry. Her success there has spread where others have asked her to help out with buildings and grounds.
“She also runs and organizes our clothes closet, where we collect clothing for the homeless. She’s also on vestry. We’re very lucky to have her and the energy she brings.”
A self-described introvert, Wylie says serving gives her joy. “I love that I have this unique opportunity to put my skills to work in a behind-the-scenes capacity, to have the opportunity to support others in their ministries. I feel like God has prepared me for this very unique position, and it feels like a blessing.”