Sunday, November 20, 2011

Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles

As an avid viewer of "This Old House," I like the concept of taking something old and restoring it to its former glory. However, too much modernization can corrupt the original (remember what the Deetz family did to the house in "Beetlejuice"?). The same can be said whenever a church attempts to ultramodernize. Throw together a drumset. huge TV screens displaying PowerPoint slides, and an entire set of A/V gear inside a classicly designed sanctuary and you've got yourself the makings of a disaster. For this sort of infringement on tradition, unless a very delicate balance can be maintained, it makes the entire worhsip experience feel like a happy-clappy pep rally led by the world's worst glee club.

Someone finally found the right balance.

I confess, the Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles was a last minute choice for me. I'd done little to no advanced research on the place other than identifying the start time of its Sunday worship service. As I arrived, the rain was pouring down in the Los Feliz district of Hollywood, and -- as usual -- there was no parking available. I drove up a side road, finally finding a spot, then got out of my car and slid my way back to church.

The place was packed. Aside from a few funerals and Christmas services, I don't think I've ever seen a church filled to capacity. This church was standing-room only. A couple hundred people who had an energy I am frankly not used to seeing in the aisles. A guy in the second row was dressed like Huggy Bear, complete with fur coat, which is neither here nor there but something I've never seen inside a church before -- and it was awesome.

Screens were positioned to either side of the altar, and the front of the church was packed with singers and musicians. And when the music kicked in, small remote controlled cameras transmitted the service live via Ustream. In reviewing the video from this morning's service, it does not do justice to the audio, which is a shame, because unlike so many worship services I've attended lately, the congregants did not merely phone it in; they made quite a joyful noise. (Note: That is me in the screen-grabbed image next to the minister as he delivered the benediction at the close of worship)

There was a double message to the day's worship. The first dealt with thanks -- an obvious topic considering the week we are in, but less obvious when you consider the pastor's accent is a dead giveaway that he is from somewhere across the pond. The second topic is less well-known to many people, and one that many in the Christian community would rather not celebrate, and one upon which this church is based. Today is a day in the LGBT community when they remember those whose lives were lost as a result of having been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. As I later learned from reading about the church on its website, the church was founded in the '60s by a radical minister who believed -- as the song goes -- that Jesus loved all the children of the world.

It is a point so trivial that I cannot believe it gets so much attention, but despite your race, gender, or sexual orientation, God loves you. Anyone who believes in God and claims otherwise is operating from a place of pure evil. Anyone -- and I'm looking at you Westboro scumbags -- who claims to speak for God and incite hatred or violence against anyone is operating from a place of pure evil. And as a guest speaker mentioned this morning, anyone who would murder someone in the Hollywood streets because of their gender or sexual orientation is operating so far from God's path they might be the devil incarnate.

MCC today is an eclectic mix of races, ages, genders, and -- one assumes -- sexual orientations. But they all come to Sunday worship to praise and sing to God. They all come to give thanks and to pray. And anyone who might deny them that honor is operating from -- you guessed it -- a place of pure evil.

Before I conclude on a positive note (perish the thought), I do have a few criticisms about MCC. For starters, for the love of God and for the love of my ear drums, bagpipes are not to be played indoors! And if you are going to do some indoor bagpiping, do not funnel the sound through a solid speaker system. What were you thinking? Come on. Have mercy on us all!

My final criticism relates to preaching politics from the pulpit. This occurred inside the first church I visited in Hollywood, and it occurred again today. In both cases, I happen to believe in the sentiment behind these political statements. However, I fervently disapprove of them being spoken as part of a worship service. As much as I detest the motives and actions of the so-called 1%, I want them to feel welcome inside God's house, just as I want the LGBT community to feel welcome inside God's house. In fact, if anybody is in more desperate need of God's word than the amoral billionaires of this nation, I'd like to might them. I support Occupy Wall Street and marched with Occupy Los Angeles, but those debates need to happen outside the confines of God's house. I'm not suggesting religious people should not engage in the debates and dialogues, but they should not be a part of a worship service. What I hope is such political speech occurred on this day because of what this day represents to the LGBT community, and that it is not a regular part of worship at MCC. As the service (yes, even the modern music) was otherwise full of positive energy and a genuine sense of welcome, my intention is to revisit this church again in the weeks to come.


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?

Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles
4953 Franklin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

Matthew 25:31-46

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Redefines diversity in a congregation, and the house was packed

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Informal but there was still a sense of reverence

What was the music like?

Praise band... and a bagpipe

How was the use of PowerPoint?

Perhaps the best use of PowerPoint and video I've ever seen. Professional and unobtrusive, though the audio needs to be better on the live Ustream feed.

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?


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