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Deanery representatives, ministry leaders and staff members gather via Zoom for Diocesan Council meeting on July 9. Screen capture by Bob Williams

[Episcopal News – July 13, 2020] Intriguing new ministry possibilities, police reform advocacy and action, grant opportunities and finances were on the agenda as lay and clergy representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles staff, institutions and 10 geographic deaneries gathered digitally July 9 for the regular monthly diocesan council meeting.

 

A ‘gospel vision’ for police reform, community safety

Diocesan Bishop John Harvey Taylor, noting that the diocese “has a footprint in every community in our five-and-a-half counties,” said he will appoint a task force to examine police reform and violence in the Southland. He said that he would name the members of the task force soon and that he had asked Canon for Common Life Bob Williams to make recommendations about the way forward and provide staff support.

Taylor cited several resolutions approved during the June 8 – 11 digital meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, the national body that administers the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention. Resolutions MB-017; MW-023 and MW-025 deal with policing reform, police violence and the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, respectively.

The work would involve advocacy and assessing community experiences — both pro and con — of local policing. A third step would articulate a Gospel vision of public safety, he said. “If there is to be exciting innovative police reform, if there is to be loving and gracious confrontation of unjust police violence, it must happen in Los Angeles.”

 

The Gathering, ‘El Gran Convivio,’ new South Asian Ministry

Bishop Suffragan Diane M. Jardine Bruce reported that the New Community Ministry — representing Black, Latino and Asian American Episcopalians — while suffering doubly from the pandemic and “the ever-deepening weight of racism and white supremacy in this country” nonetheless continues to spark creative new ministries.

For example, the Hispanic/Latinx Ministry will host “El Gran Convivio,” or The Great Fellowship—United from our Roots,” a Saturday, July 18 digital event from 6 to 8 p.m. Inspired by The Gathering, a space for Asian Pacific American spirituality, the ministry hopes to also create ties and strengthen relationships between clergy and laity from all cultures in the diocese.

The Gathering, begun several years ago, hosts educational forums and cultural immersion experiences for Southland Episcopalians, including a May 2020 panel discussion about the targeting of Asian Americans as a result of politicization of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the Rev. Khushnud Azariah, rector of St. George’s Church in Riverside, will chair a new South Asian ministry convocation among the Asian American ministries.

Bruce also announced that the Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, a retired 30-year veteran of the Washington, D.C. police department, will serve as guest preacher for the 2021 Martin Luther King celebration, to be held digitally during the MLK holiday weekend in mid-January (date and details to be announced).

 

Racial Reconciliation; One in the Spirit survey

Bruce said she and Canon Suzanne Edwards-Acton, chair of the Program Group on Black Ministries, are exploring approaches for diocesan-wide racial reconciliation initiatives.

In response to a question about ways to be supportive, Bruce added: “If you happen to see or talk to one of our brothers and sisters of color, ask them if there is anything you can do to help. Just tell them ‘I’m here and I love you.’”

Ken Higginbotham, a member of the Program Group on Communications, said: “We all have to be aware and cognizant of our surroundings. We have to speak up and not just speak in our own way but mixing into communities and different groups and showing our Christian faith. What we are trying to convey is that this (racism) is wrong … and we just have to shut it down.”

All members of the diocesan community are asked to complete a survey for the diocesan “One in the Spirit” initiative which, according the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, diocesan canon across engagement, seeks to deepen relationships across difference, in response to the increasing polarization and divisions in the church, the nation and the world.

The survey is available here in English and here in Spanish. It will be open through July 15.

 

‘Extraordinarily lean’ 2021 budget forecast

Diocesan Treasurer Canon Andrew Tomat told council he was heartened by a letter from the Rev. Canon Kelli-Grace Kurtz, rector of All Saints Church in Riverside, detailing a process the vestry used to bring the congregation’s mission share fund (MSF) pledge payments within $500 of being current.

Tomat said he hoped that the Riverside church’s experience “could be applied and conveyed to larger congregations who need to be reminded of the importance of sustaining MSF pledges.” Several of the diocese’s larger and better-resourced congregations continue to lag in their MSF contributions, he said.

The Rev. Michele Racusin, diocesan chief financial officer, said monthly MSF receipts have fallen short of the expected $391,000 total, if all parishes and missions were current with pledges. For 2020, parishes are expected to pay 15% of their 2018 operating budget, while missions are required to pay 10% of their current plate and pledge receipts.

Actual receipts ranged from a low in May of $201,000 to a June high of $389,000, nearly the total expected amount, she said. Some congregations have not paid for 2019, while others have reduced the amount they pledged, she said. The result is a loss for June of $223,000, and a year to date 2020 deficit of $788,000, she said.

Based on those reports, “I suspect the budget in 2021 will be extraordinarily lean,” Racusin said.

 

MSF ‘Missionaries’

Bishop Taylor thanked a self-organizing group of “MSF Missionaries” from diocesan council that is being formed to lovingly and compassionately contact parishes and missions to talk about the importance of paying their MSF pledges.

About 25% of MSF pledge money helps subsidize mission congregations, he said. “Without the MSF, we have churches that would not be able to stay open in these times,” Taylor said. “That contribution from the MSF is absolutely vital to the survival of scores of our churches.”

The MSF missionaries hope to be invited into “graceful conversations” with congregations that have not paid their MSF pledges, according to Dan Valdez, board chair of the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union and a member of the Bishop’s Task Force on Budget and Finance.

The goal is not a top-down process with diocesan council representatives calling the leadership of congregations to a meeting, he said, but rather “to work together to help resolve some of the arrears on mission share pledges.”

 

One Body, One Spirit COVID-19 emergency appeal

Taylor reported that the diocesan One Body, One Spirit COVID-19 emergency fund has nearly reached its $100,000 goal, “thanks to the generosity of hundreds of individuals and institutions.”

Ravi Verma, representing the Corporation of the Diocese, said that the first round of grants through the campaign have been awarded. Those receiving a $7,500 grant each included: Holy Faith Church in Inglewood; the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service or IRIS; the diocesan Jubilee Consortium ministry and St. Mark’s Church in Downey. The St. Thomas of Canterbury Church in Long Beach received a $5,000 grant, he said.

Taylor said he expects to announce a second round of grant awards in July and a third in August. He encouraged the diocesan community to continue to contribute, to help support ministries in other congregations.

 

‘Leveraging privilege for the sake of gospel value’

Valdez also reported that the task force on budget and finance, in addition to supporting diocesan staff, is examining structural overlap among governing bodies, to facilitate a timely response when congregations are making critical financial decisions.

Some congregations have already received assistance through their June 30 payroll, via the federal CARES Act and the Payroll Protection Program, he added. “It is happening in real time, and it provides great relief to our congregations, in order to manage all of their other financial obligations.”

The foundational vision of the task force’s work, inspired by Taylor, is “a more financially secure diocese and a fairer, more just diocese, leveraging privilege for the sake of gospel value for lifting up those who privilege overlooks, marginalizes and oppresses.”

 

United Thank Offering grant opportunities

Christine Budzowski reported that the UTO has changed its annual theme to “COVID — Recovering with Love and Gratitude” and will offer two granting cycles — August 14, 2020 and February 26, 2021.

The two levels of funding will include awards up to $10,000 for those with current projects who have received past grants, and a second level, of up to $10,000 – $25,000 “impact funding” for new COVID-19 related projects. A UTO grant webinar will be held on July 28 at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. PDT to offer more information. For more information, contact Budzowski at uto@ecw.losangeles.org.

 

Convention updates

Canon Steve Nishibayashi reported that there are 155 days until the “Servants of the Spirit”-themed diocesan convention, which will be held digitally. More information and dates of pre-convention deanery assemblies are here.

He stressed that timely submission of current information is critical to participation, including contact data for all lay delegates and alternates.

General Convention deputy Kathryn Nishibayashi reported that the Los Angeles deputation is planning to meet at 7 p.m., July 30 via Zoom. They will elect a chair and a representative to the diocesan council, she said.

 

Bloy House move, ELCA Bishop Guy Erwin

Taylor expressed appreciation for the ministry of Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological Seminary at Los Angeles (formerly Claremont), and for its outgoing dean, the Very Rev. Sylvia Sweeney, and incoming interim dean, the Very Rev. Canon Gary Hall, who will serve for one year.

He also offered thanksgiving for a “very rich collaboration” with Bishop Guy Erwin, who negotiated Bloy House’s move to the Glendale headquarters of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Erwin leaves Aug. 1, to become dean of the United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Diocesan council will meet again at 4 p.m. on Thursday, September 10.