Sunday, July 24, 2011

The First Christian Church of North Hollywood

I have unique tastes and sensibilities. I get that. But I can also adapt to certain scenes. When it comes to churches, there are criteria I have in mind for a house of worship, but I can accept both more or less when the situation calls for either. Though a good deal of what I'm seeking is intangible (inasmuch as I can't put it into words, but I'll know it when I see it), a few things are straight-forward. For instance: I should not leave church more agitated than when I entered. Alas, that is exactly what happened today at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood.
I chose this church because -- well -- it is famous. You might not know it by name, but if you saw the latest Indiana Jones flick, Pam & Jim's wedding on "The Office," or any episode of "7th Heaven." then you'd recognize the church. I was a huge fan of "7th Heaven," and thought it exemplified what actual family entertainment could be. I knew heading to this church that I could not expect a Rev. Camden sermon. I attempted to adapt.

First and foremost, the lack of organization unsettled me. At the last minute somebody decided to make it "Hawaiian shirt Sunday," but not everybody got the email blast, and nobody sufficiently explained the meaning behind the shirts. It was also Vacation Bible School week, and that was apparently food themed, so some of the women wore aprons. The church also celebrated "Christmas in July," so that was a part of the service. I got the impression none of the church elders bothered to communicate with each other; as a result the Sunday service lacked cohesion.

The worship service itself was somewhat traditional. They had a processional with acolytes, though they didn't wear vestments (or even Hawaiian shirts). One of the acolytes was an attractive girl in tight cutoff denim shorts and a semi-translucent top, and before I get yelled at for staring at her in a house of worship, that was what she chose to wear to light the candles on the alter. I'm not judging it; she wore what she wore and I reacted to it.

I confess that I enjoy the ceremonial aspects of a good worship service, and I haven't been at one with a processional in quite some time. Other traditional aspects of the First Christian Church of North Hollywood include a preacher who preaches from a pulpit and a complete lack of PowerPoint.

Unlike last Sunday's church, there were Bibles in the pews. However, in what I can only describe as the oddest part of the service, nobody read any Bible passages. The preacher referred to a few verses from the Gospels during his sermon, but the Bible wasn't read from at any point in the service. Another thing absent from the service was any reference to current events. We didn't pray for the people of Norway or for those suffering from record heat across the country. That seemed out-of-character to me.

As stated in the initial paragraph, I left agitated, and here's why: I'd estimate roughly 75% of the service (which lasted nearly an hour and a half) consisted of various announcements about church events, fundraisers, campaigns, and awards. We had announcements at the start of worship, announcements during worship, and announcements at the end of worship. I was deluged by an onslaught of good works. I don't begrudge a church the right to pat itself on the back for deeds done in the name of God. However, I felt two things were missing: The Word of God and God's role in modern life. What we do for God is important, but what is God doing for us? How are the events shaping the world related to God? I didn't get that at this church.

The preacher read his message, and might have benefited from a teleprompter. The message stemmed from Matthew 25 with a little help from Mark, but -- as seems to be the case even in traditional worship settings -- the edges of the verses were neatly shaved off.

A note about Holy Communion: I'm electing to refrain from taking part in communion as a visitor in a church, but two aspects of the Lord's Supper at the First Christian Church struck me. First, instead of the congregation rising and proceeding to the alter to receive communion, ushers and acolytes walked up and down the aisles delivering the body and blood of Christ. The darkly comedic side of me couldn't help but wonder: If they fail to deliver Jesus to you in 30 minutes or less, is he free? The second thing that struck me was the note in the bulletin:

The Communion "wine" used in all our services is non-alcoholic grape juice.

Looking at the list of things the church is involved in, there are mentions of AA meetings and various shelters, so it stands to reason that non-alcoholic wine should be offered for select individuals. However, I'd again point out to shaving off the edges of the Bible. Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine. Bread and wine alone are not what most of us would consider to be standard supper fare, but the ritual is to do as He did... and He didn't do it with grape juice or diet soda or even my favorite Vitamin Water. I concede this is a small issue that is really a nonissue, but to me it was an across-the-board changing of a tradition that didn't really need to be changed for the entire congregation.

I will not belittle the members of this congregation or even the leaders of this church. If it works for them, good for them. But it is not a place I have any genuine interest in visiting again. I'm sure they are good people doing good things, but the presentation left me wanting and some of it was just peculiar by my standards.Then again, my standards are peculiar.


Sunday Scorecard

This will be a regular part of my weekly reviews, a series of short-answer questions about the day's experience.

What is the contact info for the church?

The First Christian Church of North Hollywood

4390 Colfax Avenue
Studio City, CA.  91604

What was the denomination?

"Disciples of Christ" (formerly Presbyterian)

What Bible verses were referenced?

Matthew 25:35-45 and Mark 10:14 (though no structured readings took place in the service)

What are the demographics of the congregation?

A lot of seniors and a lot of young parents with kids. Lacking folks in-between.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

The Sunday I went seemed less formal than usual. Preacher remarked he generally wears a coat and tie.

What was the music like?

Traditional organ.

How was the use of PowerPoint?

No PowerPoint. And there was much rejoicing!

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Not that I could recognize, though the building itself is famous.


  1. This is very interesting to me, and helps me validate that while I attend an "old" church (both metaphorically and literally - it is a Catholic church in the Sun City retirement community!) we seem to do the opposite of what you list here as problems. I actually feel a bit better about my church - so you can look to that as one redeeming (get it?) aspect of this church service attendance.

    Also, a friend of mine and her brother had just learned that the Mormons use Kool-aid in their service in place of wine, and her brother said, "What, does Jesus come busting through the wall shouting, 'Oh YEAH!'?" Best joke in that decade of my life!


  2. I've always suggested that they ought to use Chicken in a Bisket and Diet Coke for communion. Diet Coke because it's one of the most commonly consumed beverages these days (as wine was in its day) and CIAB simply because they're pretty awesome and people might frown on the serving of poptarts.

  3. Diet Coke contains Aspertame which is proven to cause brain tumors when warm. Probably not a good choice for the blood of Christ.

    Chicken in a Bisket has merit, however. They are indeed awesome, and -- after consuming it at Holy Communion -- you could contend that the body Jesus tasted like chicken.

  4. "The darkly comedic side of me couldn't help but wonder: If they fail to deliver Jesus to you in 30 minutes or less, is he free?" You make me laugh.