Tuesday, October 13, 2015

First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood

"He is risen!" called out Senior Pastor Dan Baumgartner.

"He is risen indeed!" responded the congregation.
Dan called out more loudly, "He is risen!" and the response was louder still, "He is risen indeed!"

We sang "He Lives." It was great to visit the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood on Easter Sunday. Yes, it was October. Their calendar is a little off this year. They had their Christmas in June. Creation itself took place in January. They're working through the story of the Bible, and we were there for the conclusion of the Gospels; Acts, the Epistles and the Revelation will be filling out the rest of their calendar year.

This is Miracles, Signs and Wonders Month here at D&MGtC, so it seemed right that we arrived on a day focused on the Resurrection, which is perhaps the greatest miracle of Scripture. But the miracles don't stop there. The very existence of this vibrant evangelical church in the city that has the worldwide reputation for depravity is something of a wonder.

When most people think of Hollywood, the first thing they think of is movies and the business of show.  First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood has, throughout its history, ministered to a number of people in the industry and continues to do so. The church has made the industry part of their ministry. At the top of their web site there is a link to information for campus rental for film and television shoots.

A unique part of their ministry is Actors Co-op. On the church grounds there is a theater and a production company with year round productions. At the time we visited, "The Baker's Wife" was playing (a musical from the creator of "Wicked" and "Pippin"), and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was scheduled to open later in the month. The Actor's Co-op mission statement reads that they are "a company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. We are dedicated to pursuing the highest standards of theatrical excellence and to building up our members spiritually, personally and professionally in order to be an outreach of Christ's hope". Daily Variety has called the theater "the 99 seat miracle."

The morning we visited sign-ups were being taken for an upcoming one day retreat in Griffith Park. I found it interesting that along with activities one would expect at most church retreats -- workshops, games, hiking and such, there was also an emphasis on art and music. Creativity and esthetics are quite obviously important values in the church.

The campus itself is quite beautiful. The sanctuary was built in 1923 (which makes it, for those of us on the West Coast, a piece of antiquity). Between the structures there are lovely terrace areas and gardens that provide a focus for fellowship. There is not only a very nice library, but also a separate children's library. I was interested to see that their catalog of books wasn't exclusively religious. Both libraries had secular novels and nonfiction (but Tom the librarian pointed out they're careful to exclude anything that might be deemed "controversial". So if you hoped to brush up on the oeuvre of the recently deceased Jackie Collins, this is not the place to go.)

The sanctuary has a full pipe organ and, unlike some churches, makes regular use of it. We attended the traditional service and didn't just hear the adult choir perform, but also a children's choir (both groups in traditional robes). As one might guess by the names of the services, hymns were sung in the traditional service and worship choruses in the contemporary service (which we also attended, and the children's choir sang again -- without their choir robes).

There was a short greeting time during the service. We met a woman named Ann, a graphic artist. After the service she introduced us to Pastor Dan and also his wife, who were both quite gracious. Also after the service, Ann needed to take pictures of stained glass in the church for an art project for the one day retreat. (Side note -- Yay, Ann. Thank you so much!)

During the worship service, we heard the first in what we were told would be a series of testimonies entitled, "Making a Difference." The testimony we heard from a married couple, Kara and Brian Thevenot, provided a most encouraging picture of God's work at Hollywood Pres. The couple moved to the area a couple of years ago when Brian got a job with The L.A. Times. Kara  became a part of a Bible study and decided to give her life to Christ. Someone in the Bible study recommended First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

Kara wanted to bring the family to the church, but was concerned about their 16 year old daughter who is deaf. She called the church and found that they not only printed up all the sermons, but they had an interpreter for the deaf in the 9:30 service. Kara was excited that her daughter for the first time was gaining an understanding of Scripture.

Brian began attending the church even though he would have described himself at the time as an agnostic. He was impressed by the culture of study and debate. He attended a Sunday School class taught by Dr. Dale Bruner, one of the nation's foremost Biblical scholars. One Sunday they brought in a guest speaker to discuss the subject of homosexuality. The guest's opinions were at odds with the teaching of the church, and Brian appreciated the freedom of the discussion. Brian believes dogmatism drives people away from many churches, but that wasn't the case at this church. He soon came to faith in Christ as well.
-- Dean

I trust that Kara's and Brian's story is just one of the little miracles of Christ working through the ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood -- as many such miracles have come before and will continue on in the future.

Service Length: 1 hour 2 minutes
Sermon Length: 17 minutes
Visitor Treatment: greeting time during worship, parking lot designated for first or second time visitors (and handicapped parking), visitor card in pew rack to be put in offering plate (although our row didn't have any, the other rows all seemed to have a couple)
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none*
Our Rough Count: 200
Probable Ushers' Count: 225
Snacks: coffee and water (water was available in several locations around the campus...temperatures had been over 100 degrees F for several days). Donuts were available for purchase as well
Musicians: adult choir had 27 singers, plus organist, pianist and an oboe soloist; children's choir had 27 singers an an adult leader (and piano accompaniment)
Songs: "He Lives"
            "My Heart is Ready to Sing" (children's choir)
            "Prayer" (choir call to prayer)
            "Nearer, Still Nearer" (choir offertory)
            "I Know that my Redeemer Lives"
Miles to place: 578
Total California Miles: 14,013
Church website: www.fpchollywood.org

*We got an email during on Wednesday with an attached welcome letter