Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church

I've been watching a lot of old westerns lately. To be frank, I watch a lot of old westerns as a matter of course. In many westerns, the men who are seeking something venture to the west. This realization inspired me to head a bit farther west, off the beaten trail, to Beverly. Hills, that is.

I don't spend a tremendous amount of time in Beverly Hills because -- by and large -- I've never felt welcome there. I don't come from money, and I haven't done as good a job of amassing a fortune as most of the folks of Beverly Hills. But there is something to be said about driving down Santa Monica Blvd. and seeing all of the different churches and temples that line the street. Amidst the ritzy shops and expensive eateries, there is a segment of the city's populace who remember the sabbath and keep it holy.

If a church hosts two worship services, it is almost a given that the early morning service will be traditional and the later service will be contemporary. The Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church won my heart by making the traditional service later in the day. The church is beautiful and ornate. The pews are, if not original to the church (which is celebrating its 90th year), old. The pews are in need of being replaced.

For a while there, PBS was running a unique series of reality TV wherein they'd select people and make them live the lives of their ancestors. Frontier House was my favorite among them, but a close second was Colonial House. In Colonial House, a group of people were made to live the lives of workers in a 17th century colony. When one of the colonists, a religious woman named Bethany, learned of the tragic death of her fiancee back in the real world, many of us felt the pain of her entire family; a few of us then thought, "So... Bethany is single" but that's another story for another day. The reason I'm bringing up the show was because the colonists had to attend Sunday worship and spend several hours on hard-wood benches... basically logs split in half. The pews at the church I attended today were not that bad, but they weren't much better.

Something that occurs with some frequency is that the churches I visit tend to have guest speakers, interim pastors, etc. It isn't fair for me to offer a full review under these circumstances, but I always try to make a few remarks about what took place. Such was the case this morning, when the head pastor found himself stranded on the East Coast due to a blizzard. They'd already planned to have some missionaries speak at the service, so at the last minute one of them agreed to deliver a sermon.

There is a soft spot in my heart for those who would travel to far off places to do missionary work. My godparents and their family served in Liberia for years. Part of the personal sacrifice they made inspired me to join the Peace Corps years later. One Christmas they sent me a gift: a nativity scene hand carved out of wood by some of the locals. Just as so many Italian artists before them, the locals took literally the part in the Bible which said they were made in God's image. In other words, all the featured players in my African nativity scene appear African, including the Baby Jesus. It is one of my favorite holiday decorations and I greatly enjoyed displaying it when I taught at various Christian schools... various conservative Christian schools.

These missionaries had been working in Africa as well, so I looked forward to the sermon... until the props were introduced... and until the teenagers were led from their Sunday school classes back into the church. This sermon was catered to the young and grossly oversimplified, leaving little for those who crave a more intellectual message. "Be on God's team" was the lesson -- really didn't need the pottery wheel to drive that point home.

Otherwise, the worship service was a good one. It began with the church choir singing a call to worship. When the voices began emanating from the rear of the church, I assumed they were performing in the balcony. However, as I turned to look, I could see they had gathered at the entrance to the church; they were literally calling those outside to worship. Afterwards, there was a processional which I like.

Those in the congregation were not very vocal when it came time to sing, but the choir itself had a really good sound. While the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" has never been a favorite of mine, the choir managed to pull it off. Better still, this morning I was introduced to a song I hadn't heard before entitled, "Springs In The Desert" by Arthur Jennings. Based on Isaiah 35, the song's tones were somber and reverent and they spoke to me. So even though the sermon was nothing to write home about, I did get to hear a song I hadn't heard before and consider a verse of Isaiah that I hadn't really considered before.



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?

Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church
500 N. Rodeo Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

The pastor was supposed to focus on the Book of John but the guest speaker sort of off-the-cuff quoted a few verses in Romans.

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Actually a good mix, and they have a special Iranian/Farsi service late in the day that sounded unique.

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Formal in structure and tone. Associate pastor and choir in vestments.

What was the music like?

Organ and choir which had a good sound -- the congregation, not so much

How was the use of PowerPoint?

No PowerPoint

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Yes, one very well-known and a few semi-well-known

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