[The Episcopal News] The Rev. Kay Sylvester presented the July 15 meeting of Diocesan Council with 10 Standing Committee recommendations in response to the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s final report after a 15-month diocese-wide mediation process sought to heal divisions that erupted over a 2015 proposed sale of St. James’ Church in Newport Beach.
It was, she said, “an essentially good-news report,” since independent action has already been taken on many of the proposals.
“There is an immense amount of work that is being undertaken already – and that isn’t because we recommended it,” said Sylvester, who is Standing Committee president. “The [diocesan] administration saw the same things that we saw and acted, and I’m deeply grateful for that.”
Included among the suggestions were providing congregations and leadership – both lay and ordained – with training in conflict mediation, in diversity and cultural sensitivity, and in fair communications practices and behaviors during conflict.
LMPC had stipulated that its final report could be shared only with those who had participated in the actual mediation process. Any electronic duplication or dissemination – even to mediation participants – was prohibited. Consequently Sylvester was able to share only the committee’s response to it.
The mediation process formally began in February 2018 and concluded in May the following year. After an information-gathering period, an educational phase included a series of “Healthy Congregation” and conflict resolution workshops, attended by a total of about 337 Angelenos. A healing phase included two sessions in February 2019 attended by about 92 people. A problem-solving phase attended by about 50 people was followed by a May closing session.
Sylvester said the report of the committee’s response had been delayed by the pandemic and the untimely death of former Bishop J. Jon Bruno. The recommendations are not meant to assign blame, she said, but rather to learn from past experiences.
She noted that Bishop John Harvey Taylor and diocesan staff have already addressed the committee’s recommendations involving issues of financial openness and transparency, especially as related to Corp Sole.
In May 2021, Taylor announced (https://diocesela.org/news/edla_finance_team/) the expansion of finance department staff, including appointment of the Rev. Susan Stanton as director of finance, Godfrey Mubiru as controller, and Canon Gail Urquidi as canon for congregational support, as well as a joint budget committee for holistic engagement with congregations and institutions. Ultimately, Mubiru declined the position, citing personal reasons. Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy has said additional candidates are under consideration.
The joint diocesan budget committee includes members of both the Corporation of the Diocese and Diocesan Council, “which until now have acted on the budget but played little formal role in the nuts and bolts of drawing it up,” Taylor said in May.
Additionally, narrative budget reforms were instituted in 2018 by Bishop Suffragan Diane M. Jardine Bruce. A Bishop’s Task Force on Budget and Finance was created to examine church structures, the Mission Share Fund, and the role of the Corporation of the Diocese.
Another recommendation, for creation of an updated clergy handbook, “is essentially done and is in the translation process right now and will be available soon,” Sylvester said.
The LMPC report offered additional insight. Citing diocesan New Community ministries with Bruce at the helm, Sylvester added that “one of the highest marks the diocese gave itself was on the issue of diversity and inclusion. It was something we understand as part of our DNA, with lots and lots of room to improve access, but it is definitely part of who we are and we’re proud of that.”
Taylor thanked the Standing Committee for affirming the work that had already been done and promised that diocesan staff would continue to work to implement all the recommendations.
The Standing Committee also recommended:
• increased electronic diocesan communications and that website deficiencies be addressed, but she noted the communications office has already responded with increased news reporting which has already been beneficial in understanding the role of diocesan staff and structures;
• systems of care be established to aid those wounded by conflict, and also to enhance laity support of clergy, an effort already underway through the diocesan Fresh Start Program for the Laity, administered through the Office of Formation and Transition Ministries;
• the diocese report to the wider Episcopal Church to raise awareness of the ways established Title IV (disciplinary) processes failed. Sylvester noted that a member of the diocese’s General Convention deputation “has worked hard to get a seat on the Title IV legislative committee, so we will be represented in that conversation, which is very good news”;
• the diocese commit to fully participating in reconciliation efforts, that those involved take ownership of how they contributed to the problem, apologies be made, and all commit to forgiveness.
“I just want you to know how very hard our two bishops and our canon to the ordinary have worked, to show up and be present for every possible reconciliation conversation,” Sylvester said, in concluding the recommendations. “They really went above and beyond, particularly in this Lombard peace process and I thank them for that.”
The LMPC report also made recommendations to St. James’ Church, said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Standing Committee liaison to diocesan council. He said he hoped the Newport Beach congregation would share those recommendations with the wider diocesan community.
The Rev. Canon Kelli Grace Kurtz, chair of the diocesan Program Group on Mission Congregations, told council that St. James’ has applied for parish status. The request will be discussed at the group’s Sept. 8, meeting, she said. Following that discussion, the program group will make a recommendation to Taylor regarding the congregation’s status, she said.
“A lot is happening,” said Sylvester, who added that church structures like the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council also have a role in transforming culture. “We do that by who we encourage to run for diocesan office,” she said.
“And we have these recently appointed committees who are working on things like real estate, budget, finance, which just pulls more people into the conversation. This is a good thing because it creates more ownership and awareness.”
Ultimately, Taylor told the gathering, everyone faces conflict. “In all the ways we’re in leadership in our lives, we’ve all been here, in one way or another,” he said. He said that in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul offers an insightful lesson about leadership when he writes that love never insists on its own way, which Taylor said helps inform contemporary thinking about servant leadership and collaborative leadership.
“It may be a financial question, where we’re invited to be transparent, or a formation question, when we’re deciding who’s going to be in leadership,” Taylor said. “It may be a moment when we’re absolutely sure we’re right but still end up isolated or hunkered down. We’re constantly invited back to our gospel work of pouring ourselves out for the sake of others instead of insisting on our own way.”
“We have to remember that we’re a family together, always expressing truth in love to one another,” Taylor said, alluding to the theme of November’s diocesan convention. “What the Standing Committee has given us is some of the architecture for how to do that.”