Sunday, July 31, 2011

The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood

When selecting churches, I look up their official websites to verify start times, denominations, core statements of beliefs, and related information. I considered The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood since it is very often pictured in tourist photographs, because standing on Gower (near Roscoe's Chicken 'n' Waffles) offers people a decent view of the Hollywood sign coupled with the picturesque church itself.
I mention my methodology by way of apology. You see, I did this church a disservice by intentionally selecting the 11am service, even after research revealed it to be "contemporary" worship. I'd managed a few worship services this month and was thus far able to avoid anything contemporary, but I knew it was coming and decided to bite the bullet, head to one, and be done with it. 

I am Switzerland when it comes to pipe organ music. I actually served as a dorm monitor for a pipe organ camp a few summers ago. As with most instruments, those who do it well should be respected and those who do not should be encouraged to do better or consider pursuing other interests. All of this is my roundabout way of saying I've never met a praise band I liked, and if I had my way ye olde pipe organ would handle the bulk of a Sunday worship service.

I've encountered some talented musicians in praise bands, but I've never encountered a praise band that didn't remind me of the juvenile nature of the last two minutes of any episode of "Leave it to Beaver." I don't doubt the sincerity of the musicians and singers, nor do I doubt their genuine attempts to offer praise to God in musical form. I just dislike the cookie-cutter format (teen pop music has more variety), sappy lyrics, and just a general sense of "We know we aren't that great, but God doesn't mind" that seems pervasive by those in the field. I'll leave it to comedian Mike Birbiglia to explain it better than I ever could:

Music aside, I really enjoyed First Presbyterian. The assortment of people in the congregation was amazing. I've been in predominantly white churches, predominantly Asian churches, and predominantly black churches, but I've never seen such an even mix of people under one roof before.

However, the diversity wasn't what made me glad to have attended. I was glad because the pastor didn't seem to be completely full of sh*t. Not only that, but he got me to see a well known parable in an entirely new perspective.

The sermon was rooted in the story of the good Samaritan. Believe in God or not, the story is embedded in our society's mythology. As Jesus tells the story, a guy is robbed and badly beaten, two men pass by without helping, but the Samaritan comes to the stranger's aid. The moral is simple: Love thy neighbor.

But the pastor, Dan Baumgartner, suggested we might be looking at the story from the wrong perspective. It is futile to suggest that we try to lead our lives as the Samaritan, because we simply aren't that perfect. Nor are many of us as bad as the two men who ignored the man in the street. What we need to recognize is that in this parable, we -- all of us -- are the man in the street. We are all in need of help. We are all injured in some way. And it is that helplessness that unites us as a species. From that comes a mutual understanding -- that we might encounter a Samaritan from time to time, or we might embody the mannerisms of a Samaritan ourselves for brief periods, but it isn't the helping that unites us -- at least not nearly as much as the need to be helped. It was a perspective on that story -- a story I've heard my entire life -- that didn't sound sappy. It didn't sound juvenile. It didn't sound like the last two minutes of any episode of "Leave it to Beaver."

It was a sermon that didn't assume I was a moron delivered by a pastor who didn't talk down to me. It has been a while since I've encountered that. So my apologies to this church for being the recipient of my contemporary apprehensions, but I promise to return another Sunday to one of the traditional services at 9:30am.



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 Presbyterian Church of Hollywood

1760 N. Gower St.
Hollywood, CA 90025

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Luke 10:25-37

What are the demographics of the congregation?

The most equally diverse group of worshipers I've seen in all the churches I've ever visited.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

A contemporary service lends towards informality, but the pastor wore a tie while delivering the sermon

What was the music like?

Praise band -- consisted of guitar, bass, piano, and drums

How was the use of PowerPoint?

PowerPoint operator had A LOT of trouble keeping up with the songs, readings, etc.

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

A few character actors -- familiar faces but I couldn't quite place the names

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