Bishop Jon Bruno recalled the diocese’s rich legacy of transformational leadership in tough times and challenged delegates and visitors to continue to “be the light, be the peace” during his Dec. 3 address to the 116th annual convention meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles at the Riverside Convention Center.
“Today I am calling us as a diocese to look in new ways in which we might partner to become that ‘One Light’ in our region, in our local communities, in the wider Episcopal Church, as well as the interfaith community and the world as a whole,” he said.
“The one light of God shines brighter when we honor one another and work together,” Bruno told the assembly, themed “One Light, One Peace, One World.” He invoked the spirit of unity and peace from the OneLight interfaith event, a ten-year commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and encouraged deeper interfaith engagement.
Bruno praised as “examples of light” entrepreneurial strategies of his predecessors who faced many of the same challenges now confronting the diocese: population growth, diversity and full inclusion and tough economic times.
During the two-day gathering, he and Bishops Suffragan Mary Glasspool and Diane Bruce condemned an anti-gay marriage law passed at the end of November by the Nigerian Senate.
Convention approved legislation supporting a two-state solution for the Middle East peace process and an end to confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of housing and displacement of people.
But delegates resoundingly rejected a controversial resolution that proposed liquidation of three mission congregations per year for a period of five years, and another calling for a special General Convention to be held not later than Feb. 1, 2015 to consider structural reform of the Episcopal Church.
Also featured were conversations among delegates about deepening local interfaith relationships and international mission partnerships. Journalist Sandy Tolan — author of The Lemon Tree: an Arab, a Jew and the Middle East, the story of a house and the two families, one Jewish, one Palestinian, who claimed its ownership — facilitated a conversation about engaging a peace process in the Middle East.
Facilitating the conversation about interfaith relationships was author Kay Lindahl, a parishioner at Faith, Laguna Niguel and a member of the diocesan program group on ecumenical and interreligious life, whom Bruno named an honorary Canon of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Robert Johnson, a parishioner of St. John’s ProCathedral, was also named an honorary canon in recognition of his dedicated service on the Corporation of the Diocese.
Mary Bruno became the seventh recipient of the Order of Angels, and was presented with a framed proclamation and a silver cross— a replica of one worn by third bishop of Los Angeles F. Eric Bloy — during the Dec. 2 evening reception. Bruno said the presentation was a complete surprise to Mary and joked about the difficulty of keeping the secret from his spouse.
Past to present: legacies of transformational leadership
Previous Los Angeles bishops, beginning with Joseph Horsfall Johnson, who arrived as the diocese’s first bishop in 1896 when the city’s population was 75,000, have turned tough times into transformational moments, Bruno told the gathering.
Johnson’s collaboration with women religious and deaconesses helped develop Good Samaritan Hospital, Hillsides Home for Children, the Neighborhood Youth Association, (formerly known as the Neighborhood Settlement) and St. Barnabas Senior Services, he said — all of which continue to serve the Southland today as institutions of the diocese.
In the more than a century since Johnson’s episcopacy the city’s population has increased exponentially, by about 50 times, to nearly 3.8 million, with about 17 million residents living in the six counties — San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura, and Santa Barbara — that comprise the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Bruno also invoked the OneLight image when recalling the Hands in Healing anti-violence initiative and bridge-building pilgrimage he undertook along with a group of young people in 2002. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine shooting and the 1998 torture and death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, the group visited dioceses and churches across the country to promote healing and relationship.
Creating such mission partnerships, rather than closing congregations is the solution to dealing with tough economic times, said Bruno, referring to a controversial resolution rejected by convention that had proposed closing the three mission congregations a year for five years.
“Rather than closing congregations what we need to do is to adapt and reconfigure to bring about the abundance of the gospels,” he told delegates and visitors. “We need to remember the gospel’s preferential option for the poor, and look seriously at any actions or legislation that throws away the importance of relationships.”
Examples of such mission partnerships include: St. Francis Mission Outreach Center, San Bernardino; St. Luke’s Fontana Mission Center in Fontana; St. John’s Well Child Center and the Epiphany Conservation Trust and St. Francis Friary, both in Los Angeles; St. Stephen’s, Beaumont; as well as various Chinese and Korean language ministries, the Abundant Table ministry in Santa Barbara and the Episcopal Housing Alliance/California Chef’s Kitchen in Pasadena, he said.
“The more we work together, the brighter we shine as ‘One Light,'” he said.
Becoming and sharing ‘OneLight’
Citing examples like the Instituto de Liderazgo, or Latino Leadership Institute collaboration between Bloy House and the diocesan Program Group on Hispanic Ministry, whose first graduates were present at convention, Bruno challenged delegates and visitors to “as a diocese look in new ways in which we might partner to become that one light in our region, in our local communities, in the wider Episcopal Church, as well as the interfaith community and the world as a whole.
“We need to do one thing: we need to share. We need to pool resources, we need to exchange ideas, we need to communicate more intentionally,” he added.
The OneLight event, initially proposed by Bruno and held Sept. 10, drew about 1,500 Muslims, Jews and Christians to the Los Angeles City Hall. Southland Episcopalians from more than 120 of the diocese’s 143 congregations participated. Designated lantern-bearers received special lanterns, etched with symbols of the three Abrahamic faiths, to take back to their congregations for use in worship.
“The more we share together in common cause, the brighter will shine the one light of God,” Bruno said. “And the more we respect one another, and the dignity of every human being, the more will our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified.”
He called upon convention to consider working for a variety of initiatives, including the Opposition to the Death Penalty in California – SAFE Initiative; the Free Wheelchair Mission and the Episcopal Relief and Development’s Nets4Life program, which aims to eventually eradicate malaria.
In other convention business, delegates elected diocesan officers and approved without debate a $6 million budget for 2012. Bruno encouraged parishes to give at the 12 percent level, noting that if all congregations did so, “the Mission Share Fund pledge income represented by the additional giving would increase $750,000.”
He said diocesan structure “continues to do more with less,” adding that the work once done by 56 employees is now being done by 20 full-time equivalents. “This scenario is complicated by the ongoing expense of property litigation, now in its seventh year at a cost of more than $6 million,” Bruno added.
He said that an upcoming mid-March court date should help turn the corner on the lawsuits, involving property held by breakaway groups.
By shifting diocesan health insurance to the Episcopal Church Medical Trust, the diocese will be able to save more than $600,000, he told delegates.
Convention also approved resolutions that would: expand the Program Group on Ministry in Higher Education missions to community colleges; extend the diocesan companion relationship with the Diocese of El Salvador for three years, until June 30, 2015; recommit parishes to the 12 percent giving level with a goal of working toward a 15 percent level.
Convention also approved a resolution affirming the sacredness of water and asking that congregations study the book, The Big Thirst: the Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, by Charles Fishman (2011) “to learn why our supplies of cheap, safe and abundant water is about to change unless we learn how to use, share and value it.”
The 117th meeting of convention will be held Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012 in a location to be announced in San Bernardino. The convention will be limited to one day and the venue shifted because the Riverside Convention Center, where the convention has been held for some 20 years, will be undergoing renovation at that time.