Bishop Jon Bruno called for a moment of silence in honor of Nelson Mandela at the start of the 118th annual meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles Dec. 6, and challenged several hundred convention delegates, visitors, and guests to sow seeds of hope, reconciliation and transformation, as had the former South African leader who died a day earlier.

“Creative new ministries need new seeds,” said Bruno, citing as examples recent transformative ministries that have blossomed and grown:

  • “Versed,” a seven-week study of people in the Bible for young adults, led by the bishops. “We had
  • 60 people show up every Tuesday night. They’re searching for something … and they asked us to come back for a seventh session where they played ‘bowling with the bishops’ and asked us any questions and we gave them the answer in our heart. That is going to continue,” Bruno said.
  • A December 2014 Holy Land pilgrimage for young adults aged 18 to 35;
  • A “Laundry Love” program to wash clothes for the homeless, initiated by the emerging congregation of Thom’s in Huntington Beach and recently expanded by Thad’s into the Venice Beach area and by Holy Spirit, Silver Lake, into Hollywood;
  • The Sixth Day worship service for pets and pet-lovers at St. Stephen’s Church, Whittier, moving to Sunday mornings at 11:15 a.m., and other creative ministries like the Sacramentum emergent worship services at St. James, South Pasadena;
  • Increasing acceptance and celebration of marriage equality;
  • Seeds of Hope, the food and wellness initiative underway to farm the diocese.

In addresses both personal and prophetic, Bruno and other speakers invoked images of planting, sowing, cultivating, nourishing, blossoming, and harvesting during the two-day “Serving Together in Abundant Vineyards”-themed gathering at the Ontario Convention Center.

A featured convention speaker was Bishop Barbara Harris, retired bishop suffragan of Massachusetts and the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, who delivered the third biennial Margaret Parker Memorial Lecture on Dec. 7 (see related story here). The lecture series commemorates Parker’s 70-plus year ministry to the church, much of it at St. Cross by-the-Sea Church in Hermosa Beach with her husband, the Rev. Canon Richard I.S. Parker, rector there for 42 years.

Visitors to Convention included Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan and a primate of the Anglican Communion; and Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer of the Episcopal Church who serves as partnership representative between the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

Community and recovery

Bruno described the importance of relationship — another recurrent convention theme — while he was undergoing treatment for leukemia in 2012. “It is important that you know that it was my community, my family, every one of you, who helped me get through this,” he said, his voice breaking.

“I came home [from the hospital] to 25,000 handwritten communications, hundreds of prayer shawls and … a quilt I still hang onto at night. There’s another quilt I’ve just passed on to a member of the clergy in this diocese. It spoke to me of faith, compassion, love, planting seeds of hope in the heart of someone who feels desolate at the moment,” he said.

His remarkable recovery — doctors have declared him “metabolically clear” of leukemia — prompted City of Hope to invite him to ride on their Rose Parade float on Jan. 1, 2014. “They figure I’m a good poster child,” he said amid applause. “I thank each and every one of you for planting seeds of hope and sharing your hearts and ministry with one another in a way so the world is transformed by what you do and what you touch.”

During his recovery, he conceived “Seeds of Hope” along with Tim Alderson, executive director, who also addressed the gathering, as did Los Angeles Bishops Suffragan Diane Bruce and Mary Glasspool.

The language of relationship

“What if this entire planet is one of God’s seeds of hope?” said Glasspool during a Dec. 6 meditation. Recalling the 1972 “blue marble” photograph of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew might help us recover a sense of awe and wonder for “this fragile earth, our island home,” she said.

“The journey through Advent takes us from the cosmos to the cradle,” Glasspool added. Referencing George Clooney’s iconic question in the recent movie “Gravity” — “Where is home, Dr. Stone?” — she asked convention: “Where is home, people of the Diocese of Los Angeles? Our home is Jesus. The fact that the ruler of the universe … chose to take on human flesh, that riskiest of ventures in the same way we came into the world, is a truly awesome thing,” she said. “God spoke and continues to speak to us in a language we can all understand, the language of human relationship.”

‘M&Ms’ for ‘mission & ministry’

Bishop Bruce passed out episcopal-purple and lavender M&M candies to designate “mission and ministry” during a Dec. 7 meditation and report, and announced several upcoming events among diocesan and surrounding communities, including:

  • A creative ministry group gathering on Saturday, March 29, at a location and time to be announced, to offer “the freedom to see things in a new way. It comes in the form of conversation first,” she said.
  • The ongoing Good Samaritan Hospital-Anglican Diocese of Korea chaplaincy partnership which continues to mutually deepen relationships;
  • The upcoming Jan. 1, 2014 opening of the Florence Li Tim-Oi Chinese Center at the Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, named in honor of the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion. “The first goal of the center is to provide resources for the continuation and expansion of the Chinese-speaking ministry in the diocese and the Episcopal Church in concert with our global partnerships in Asia,” Bruce said.
  • The annual celebration commemorating the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., planned for 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18 at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, featuring Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina as guest preacher.

Bruce said she plans to visit neighborhoods surrounding the 45 congregations under her charge. “I want to be in conversation, to pray, to know their joys and challenges, the abundance they live with, to know if the congregation is in conversation with people around them because mission and ministry don’t happen in a vacuum. They come from prayer, collaboration and conversation.”

Seeds of Hope: ‘Doing all that we can with all that we have’

About one-third of all diocesan congregations are already growing or distributing food through local pantries, community gardens and feeding programs, Tim Alderson, Seeds of Hope executive director told convention.
What Seeds of Hope offers, he said, is “a new way to think about being church” and the opportunity to involve congregations with one another, and to grow crops as a healthy alternative to the food insecurity and food deserts existing in the six-county Los Angeles diocese.

Alderson, a Church of Our Saviour parishioner, told convention-goers he was born on a farm in Salinas, began working the fields at age 11 and was employed for 20 years in the agricultural field.
“We have places in this diocese where one-third of children under age five are obese,” he said. “Those who are living in poverty or dealing with food insecurity are 50 percent more likely to be obese … (because) the cheapest, most accessible, most affordable food is the most calorie-dense.”

Some 4.5 million people in the diocese are living in poverty and 3 million, including one-fourth of all children, are living with food insecurity, he said. Food insecurity affects the middle class also.

“The question is, what if we … pooled resources and embraced our identity as one church, what could we do?” he asked. “Seeds of Hope is about doing all that we can with all that we have, and that’s a lot. It’s about seeing and sharing the abundance that we have.” Too often, people view their assets in terms of scarcity but “if we stop and look at what we have that we’re not fully using, it’s amazing what can come from that,” he said.

It would involve treating the diocese as a kind of “megachurch” where its some 200-plus church and other properties are regarded “as one single vertically integrated food system where we can grow the food needed and get it to people who need it.”

It would also mean becoming more involved in local communities and learning “not only what they need but what they prefer and growing according to that need.”

Which can only blossom: “If we have churches in neighborhoods that are food deserts, what if we turn our parish halls into pop-up farmers’ markets?”

Alderson told the gathering that a $1 million contract Seeds of Hope just received from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health to offer education classes at 15 churches illustrates the importance of working together.

“There’s no single entity in our diocese that would have been eligible to apply,” he said. “But by approaching it as the diocese and talking about the capacity we’ve had for decades, with the Our Saviour Center in El Monte or the Jubilee Consortium, now we are able to do this in 15 parishes in challenged neighborhoods.”

Seeds of Hope is a multi-layered effort to help connect and expand existing food programs while developing others, including Sunday school and adult formation curricula and a diocesan-wide food policy.

“How are we with food when we gather and serve food either in social gatherings, coffee hour and Sunday school? If you’re hungry and I give you something to eat that has no nutritional value, have I fed you?” he asked. “If you’re hungry and I give you something that will harm your health, how does that fit into the gospel imperative? We need a diocesan food policy to think about how we are at food with each other and those we’re caring for in our communities.”

Johnna Dominguez, an Episcopal urban intern serving with Seeds of Hope, is conducting asset mapping around the diocese to help identify where resources and needs exist.

Also envisioned is a plan to convert church property into farming collectives, and to create positions for farm advisors, ideally two per geographic deanery, to offer resources and support to local congregations. The first such property identified is St. Francis Mission Center, San Bernardino.

“When we’re doing all that we can with all that we have that’s when we get more,” Alderson said, citing an unexpected gift of fruit trees that has transformed the grounds at Prince of Peace Church, Woodland Hills into an orchard that “will produce as much as 20,000 pieces of fruit each year, fresh nutritious fruit for their food pantry.”

‘Just start anyway’

The Rev. Andy Barnett, an Episcopal priest, teacher, environmentalist, musician and founder of the Theodicy Jazz Collective, which provided music for convention worship, galvanized delegates during a rousing call and response sermon, inviting change in spite of perceived obstacles.

Barnett called out a series of all-too-familiar challenges to change, such as “But, we’ve never done it this way this before,” inviting delegates to respond with “Just start anyway.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

“Just start anyway!”

“But we don’t have enough people.”

“Just start anyway!”

He described how several years ago he and other Yale Divinity School students wanted to do something to help offset global climate change. They decided to plant a garden, and they got started. The details quickly fell into place. Seeds were donated; the dean unexpectedly offered prime land; people showed up to help plant, till, sow and cultivate, and the garden quickly became a movement and a reality, he said.

“Praying shapes believing. So does doing; doing shapes believing,” Barnett said. “Will our work matter with Seeds of Hope? Only if it sparks a movement. How else do you turn vicious cycles into virtuous cycles? In the end, the only way you can spark a movement is to jump in yourself and start.”

“Seeds of Hope could move us out of the office and onto the streets,” Barnett added. “We will find ourselves feeding and growing and serving rather than forming committees to consider” what to do. My message to you today is to ‘start anyway. None of us knows enough to get this project off the ground by ourselves, … but when we partner together the possibilities are endless ‘like wheat that springeth green,’” he said, echoing and then inviting delegates to sing the familiar Easter hymn.

Delegates renew Jerusalem companion relationship, reject gun violence

Convention also approved a $6.2 million budget and elected diocesan officers and deputies to General Convention, slated for June 25 – July 3, 2015 in Salt Lake City.

After lively debate, delegates approved on first reading an amendment to Article VI, Section 16 of the diocesan constitution that would make 14-year-olds eligible for seat and voice at convention.

Some delegates, like Richard Henderson of the Church of the Angels in Pasadena, while supporting youth involvement in church, questioned the age change because “it would include those who are 14 and 15 who are not yet lectors in their congregations. What we should all try to do in our congregations is to look for qualified young members who are at least 16 and elect them as delegates from our congregations, particularly in larger congregations with multiple delegates.”

But Peter Brown, a delegate from St. James in the City, Los Angeles, supported the amendment as a way to more deeply engage youth. His daughters, aged 8, 10 and 13 “are very actively involved in our church,” he told convention. “We should do everything possible to engage our young people at the earliest points and if giving them the vote helps them participate more fully, I stand in support of it.”

Allison Farrar, a youth delegate from Deanery 5, urged adoption. “A year ago, convention changed my faith in ways I never anticipated,” she said. “Before, it was personal and private but I rarely considered it when making decisions about my everyday life.” But, after learning about diocesan ministries throughout the world, “I felt a greater responsibility to make my beliefs felt around the world,” she said. “Give us that responsibility, invite us to be part of the decision-making process. It will give us faith to transform our lives and our world.”

Final approval of the measure requires a second consideration at Diocesan Convention 2014.

In other convention action delegates also: extended for three years the Los Angeles diocese’s companion relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem; passed a resolution that called for fuller inclusion in church life of people with developmental or intellectual difficulties; adopted a resolution — also to be proposed to General Convention — to decrease gun violence in the nation and the diocese and to encourage congregations to declare their properties as gun-free zones; and tabled a canonical amendment requiring church members to be “confirmed communicants of the church in good standing” before they can be eligible to serve on vestries.

Bishop Bruno told the gathering that an online educational curriculum for prospective vestry members is being developed. He said, “It will be available for every single person that’s going to serve on vestries.”

Convention also approved a resolution proposed in response to Bruno’s address to create a diocesan policy on the production, distribution and commitment to food, citing the baptismal covenant as a compelling force to help alleviate circumstances for the number of people living within the six-county diocese in poverty, hunger and food insecurity.

Among other things, the resolution provide that “churches, schools and other institutions of the diocese commit to fully use all of their resources, or offer them up to community partners to use, for food production and distribution to our neighbors in need.”

It also provide that “whenever food is served or distributed — at food pantries, feeding programs, social gatherings, coffee hour, Sunday school, youth activities, etc. — at the churches, schools, and other institutions of the diocese commit to offering fresh, nutritious food.”