Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hollywood United Methodist Church

Welcome to my inaugural blog post.

Before I launch into my review of the Hollywood Methodist Church, I should begin with a brief explanation about who I am and why I'm electing to embark on this spiritual tour of Hollywood.

About a year ago, my house of worship -- a Lutheran church in San Diego, CA -- basically made it clear that my level of faith did not measure up to their standards. I don't believe it is anybody's place to judge someone else's level of faith or belief in God. They disagreed. I took a sabbatical from celebrating the Sabbath. My faith did not waver, but I was not interested in thrusting myself back into a situation where some spiritual leader could condemn my ideology. Since then, I have relocated and taken a job in Hollywood. I believe it is time for me to get off the horse or get back in the saddle or any other metaphor you think best fits going to church.

I'm going to set a goal of visiting a different church every week, though I reserve the right to repeat churches. My goal is to find a place where I can feel God doing His thing. As I make the spiritual rounds, I'll write about each church, reviewing them in much the same way one might review a movie or TV series. Because faith can be an intensely personal matter, my tastes will probably not perfectly align with yours. It is not my intention to offend anyone who might be a part of any of the churches I frequent, but I do intend to write critically and candidly about my experiences in each. I welcome and encourage comment, discussion, and debate. However, I will not tolerate intolerance or hate speech of any kind.


The Hollywood United Methodist Church is perhaps the best known church in all of Hollywood. It is an icon, very near the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex, as well as the Magic Castle. It looks exactly the way a church should look: Gothic-style arches and ornamentation, marble and stone, stained glass, and dark wood framing. It is clear from the novelty sized red-ribbon adorning the bell tower that this church is somehow connected to the fight against AIDS.
What I know about the Methodist Church could fit on a Dixie cup. In fact, all that immediately comes to mind is the line from "Our Town":

"Leave the loudness to the Methodists. You couldn't beat 'em, even if you wanted to."

Walking inside the church, I was greeted by two or three guys, one of whom handed me the Sunday bulletin. The pews are more like stadium seating, with individual seats that you fold down to sit on. In the pews are hymn books, offering envelopes, guest/prayer cards, but no Bibles (at least none in the row I sat in). A lone guitar strummed a mellow tune as people entered the sanctuary. The house wasn't full by the time the 11am service began, but it was nearer to capacity than I expected. According to the bulletin, the previous Sunday's worship service boasted a congregation of 262 people. I'd estimate about the same in attendance today.

The tunes and prayers were familiar, though some of the lyrics were different than I was used to. The opening hymn "Sing With All The Saints In Glory" was set to Beethoven's "Ode To Joy." There was a children's message that was largely the same as every children's message I've ever sat through (nobody's fault -- I just don't think they work). Then the kids were shuffled off to Sunday School while the adults did the traditional meet-and-greet hand-shaking and hugging.

The message came from the Book of Galatians, only not really. As the pastor indicated, somebody had given the language a little modern-day polish. I don't mean to single this church out because they are hardly the only to do this, but it annoys me. Understand that any version or translation of the Bible subsequent to King James annoys me. It isn't that I don't want the Word of God to be relatable to modern man, but there is something to be said about the English of the age of Shakespeare. There should be a formality to our interaction with God. He is not "Buddy Christ" as Kevin Smith depicted. He (or in this instance Paul) should not sound like a surfer. 

Anywho, the sermon was clearly not one I would have heard in my old Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, because it spoke of the equality of all of God's children and how we are all worthy of love and respect (think I might still have some bitterness issues to work through with the LCMS). The congregation included several openly gay men in attendance, and their website speaks to the church's support of the LGBT community. But the focus of the sermon was not on gays or lesbians; it was on the Mormon Church.

The summer sermon series is a common practice for churches. It is a lean time for religious holidays, so pastors try to lighten the mood with uplifting messages. Being a church in Hollywood, it made sense that the Hollywood United Methodist Church's summer series focused on a series of films and how they relate to faith. This sermon centered around "8: The Mormon Proposition," a documentary about the California vote on gay marriage. The head pastor, Kathy Cooper-Ladesma, drove the point home that the pulpit was not the place to conduct political speeches, and any church shoving itself into a political debate is committing a sin. This statement was met with applause and loud cries of "amen."

Here's the thing: I support my LGB friends and family (I would support my T friends, but I don't have any -- that I know of), but the so-called gay agenda is a social and political cause, and it is a cause the Hollywood United Methodist Church publicly supports. And good for them for doing so, but it seemed somewhat odd to be condemning the Mormon act of forcing their morality into the political arena as sinful while they would seem to work from the opposite side of that coin. It is a bit like Sarah Palin's daughter going on a lecture tour to speak about abstinence and against teen pregnancy. In summary, I liked what the pastor had to say, I just don't recognize her authority to say it. She spoke dynamically and with fervor, and I'm sure there are other areas where she could speak with authority, but this just didn't ring credible to me.

Overall, this was not a bad way to return to Sunday worship. The people were warm and friendly, the atmosphere sufficiently traditional, and nobody questioned my faith.


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 Hollywood United Methodist Church
6817 Franklin Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90029

What was the denomination?

What Bible verses were referenced?
Galations 3:23-29 (sort of, but not really -- and nothing from the Gospels, which I am not used to)

What are the demographics of the congregation?
Tough to generalize this group, which is good because they had a wide age range and  a good gender mix. Mostly white crowd, but I sat in the same row as two African-Americans and a Hispanic American.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?
It was a mix. The associate pastor wore the traditional white collar and many in attendance dressed up for the service, but the pastor herself wore a basic black dress with no vestments and just as many in the congregation wore jeans or shorts. One guy in front of me drank Vitamin Water during the service, which rubbed me the wrong way.

What was the music like?
Acoustic guitar led us into worship. Traditional pipe organ during worship (the organ itself sounded more like an organ from a carnival or ballpark than a church), as well as one tune featuring a soloist accompanied by a piano.

How was the use of PowerPoint?
As unobtrusive as PowerPoint tends to get. The images were projected on the walls to the left and right of the cross -- no screens, just the bare walls.

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?