Diocesan Council met on May 14 by Zoom call, its second such online gathering. (Not all attendees are pictured here.) Screenshots by Janet Kawamoto

Bishop John Harvey Taylor opened the second online meeting of Diocesan Council on May 14, 2020, with a tribute to the Rt. Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce and her “10 extraordinary years” as Bishop Suffragan in Los Angeles.

Taylor said Bruce, who made history Dec. 4, 2010 as the first woman elected a bishop in the L.A. diocese, “is a global expert in New Community ministry and stewardship.

“She has the ear of the presiding bishop and her colleagues at the Church Pension Group board and both of those have been enormously helpful to us in this crisis. She in an inspired, devoted, energetic, prophetic leader of the church.” She was consecrated May 15, 2010 at the Long Beach Arena. (See related story here.)

Financial and liturgical responses to the COVID-19 virus continued to dominate the work of the council, which represents Diocesan Convention between its annual meetings. Its members are clergy and lay representatives from each of the 10 deaneries, delegates elected by convention, and leaders of diocesan ministries.

Finances, COVID-19-related relief

Payroll Protection Plan. Congregations receiving funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) will need to follow detailed guidelines or risk having to repay the money, according to Canon Andy Tomat, diocesan treasurer. He reported that 42 parishes had received funds thus far, totaling $3.7 million.

The Rev. Michele Racusin, diocesan chief financial officer, said approval has been granted also for the diocesan group application on behalf of mission congregations and associated entities. When those funds – totaling $3.3 million –  become available, they will be administered by the diocese.

According to Racusin, a webinar on June 2, 5 – 7 p.m., will offer additional information for congregations on applying for loan forgiveness, how to calculate amounts, and required documentation. More information about the webinar, including Zoom log-in information, will be included in the Resource Roundup newsletter.

MSF Budget. While overall spending is down, so are congregational pledge payments, Racusin said. “If we could collect our receivables and get pledge statements in, on the revenue side, we’d be fine this year,” she told Diocesan Council.

Taylor said the next few months will determine whether budget cuts will be needed. “The CFO’s advice is that now is not the time for the council to act on recommended budget cuts but rather to give focus, as she’s asked us to do, on the revenue side.”

Financial services professional Dan Valdez, chair of the board of the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union, also emphasized the importance of encouraging congregations to stay current with their mission share pledges. Reporting about the Task Force on Budget and Finance, Valdez noted that diocesan staff are exploring other efficiencies and potential savings as well as transitioning to more online and alternative ways of giving. The task force will also examine survey results from the compensation justice task force and longer-term financial planning strategies, possibly a 3-to-5-year plan.

Valdez has also provided information about the credit union’s ability to aid New Community congregations, whose members have been hard hit by the pandemic, Bruce said.

Bishop Bruce said she will host a Saturday, June 6 webinar focusing on relationships and stewardship in the time of pandemic and online giving, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m..

The One Body, One Spirit Emergency Appeal will “help those at our institutions that have been hardest hit economically,” Taylor said, reminding council to publicize the fund. “We are considering it to help food banks and housing insecurity nonprofit agencies in the neighborhood of our congregations. Any gift, large or small, is deeply, deeply appreciated.”

Mission Congregations can use 2020 mission development grant applications for 2021 to avoid, in the age of COVID-19, a stringent grant process, Taylor said.

“By July 31, each mission congregation is required to submit an application to be included in the grant process,” said the Rev. Canon Kelli-Grace Kurtz, chair of the Program Group on Mission Congregations and rector of All Saints Church in Riverside. “Every mission congregation must submit monthly financials, minutes of bishop’s committee meetings and ongoing issues and concerns.”

The PGMC yearly reviews and recommends grants to help fund some 37 mission congregations, 3 outreach ministry centers and 4 other worshipping communities, she said. The process requires an extensive site survey, narrative and three-year plan that would be burdensome, given current COVID-19 virus restraints. The current year’s application could be automatically considered for 2021, with the provision that if the budget is approved by council and convention, the grant awards could change.

ECW/UTO President Christine Budzowski reminded council that Episcopal Church Women (ECW) emergency medical grants are available to assist with insurance, dental and medical bills, as well as prescription costs up to $500, she said. Requests may be made by clergy and filled out online. The organization, like many others, is adapting to online meetings. She said United Thank Offering 2021 grants will focus on requests for responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving toward Convention

Secretary of Convention Canon Steve Nishibayashi said his office has received 77 parochial reports; 15 others are in the process of completion. Another 35 have not yet been started, he said. The 2019 convention journal has received the Standing Committee report, which has been processed for distribution and review.

Taylor said the convention theme has shifted in response to the pandemic and the inequities it has revealed. The theme will be “Servants of the Spirit.”

“It is the church’s obligation to listen to what the spirit of the age is telling us and to serve the Holy Spirit by building the church the Spirit intends,” he said.

Returning to churches, worship will continue to be determined by state guidelines, Taylor said.

The Bishop’s Council of Advice (COA) — consisting of deans of the ten geographic diocesan deaneries, along with Bruce; the Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, canon to the ordinary; the Rev. Canon Joanna Satorius, canon for formation and transition ministry; the Very Rev. Mark Kowaleski, St. John’s Cathedral co-dean; and diocesan chancellor Richard Zevnik — is meeting weekly.

COA subgroups have been constituted to examine government policy; pastoral offices, (baptisms, confirmations, ordinations and consecrations); Holy Eucharist; access to online tools and stages 3 and 4 of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s guidelines.

Taylor said it could be months or after June 15 when churches may return, with adaptations and size limits, he said. A pastoral letter is to be sent soon regarding livestreaming worship services as well as plans for the June 13 ordination of transitional deacons.

The letter will also include brief reflections on Holy Eucharist, Taylor said. He said he realized, after visiting the online worship of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hollywood, that “in two months, I had never heard the prayer of consecration all the way through — it was profoundly moving.”

There are a number of variations for online worship, Taylor said. Some clergy are using the daily office, while others have opted for a spiritual communion according to guidelines issued by the presiding bishop. That entails the priest saying the service and consuming the elements while those present online say a prayer acknowledging that while they can’t take the bread and wine, the sacrament is still effective.

Taylor said he understands that it is hard for priests to say Holy Eucharist and consume the elements if their people can’t. “But if we do say the Holy Eucharist, we give our people the blessing of hearing the words,” Taylor said. “We’re the people of the Book of Common Prayer. We are people of the word. The Eucharist isn’t just the elements, it’s the beautiful prayers.”

He and Canon Kathy O’Connor offer a Sunday noonday prayer service that may be accessed either on his or the diocesan Facebook page, he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has invited him to sit on task force of religious leaders and functionaries who will advise the mayor about how to reopen area churches.

Bob Williams, Canon for Common Life, thanked deanery liaisons to council for gathering congregational email lists, which have increased from 23 to 46 that are being added to receive the weekly online Episcopal News Update. “That leaves us with 85 more congregations to add to the list. We are most grateful for anything you can do,” he said. (Lists may be sent to news@ladiocese.org. Requested information is first name, last name and email address for each parishioner.)

A recent fundraiser for the Neighborhood Youth Association raised $107,000, exceeding its $100,000 goal, to be used to support low-income and college-bound students.

The council meets next at 4 p.m. on June 11, 2020.