Nov 4, 2012: Happy 99th Birthday, WeHoUCC!

Posted on : Nov 1st, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

“West Hollywood Presbyterian Church looks lost amid the drab store fronts and motels of Sunset Blvd.

An unimposing, white structure, it lacks the traditional stained glass windows or steeple that instantly identify a church.  Moreover, there are bars on the windows and a tall iron gate across the entrance – features that give it a less-than-inviting appearance.

But, the small sanctuary is packed nearly every Sunday, an achievement many churches can’t claim.  And attendance is only one of the things that sets West Hollywood Church apart from other churches.”

– Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, 1984 upon the Call of Dan Smith as Pastor.

Elaine was so right!  At the time our ministry was downright scandalous!  The place was packed with gay men, a few mothers and grandmothers of gay men, a few lesbians, and a lot of folks that no other church in Los Angeles cared to welcome.  We’ve been on the cutting edge of social change and progressive spirituality for a long time – and we’re mighty proud of it!

99 years ago – Nov 2, 1913 to be exact – our church was born.

For about the first 40 years of our ministry, we were a pretty traditional church with a very traditional ministry.  The Church was formed to reach out to middle class folks who lived in very middle class homes in our area.  Our church had a choir, a ladies missionary society, children’s programs, men’s groups, very traditional worship, and was almost all white/Caucasian, as was the neighborhood.  At the time, the area we know today as “West Hollywood” was known as “The Town of Sherman.”  That’s because the Shermans owned all the land!

Nov 2, 1013 our church was organized.  One month later, December of 1913,the lot at the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Martel Avenue, known as 7350 Sunset Blvd., was purchased from Frank P. Sherman and Corrine Sherman (husband and wife) for…..(take a deep breath!!!)  Ten ($10.00) Dollars!  Yup, $10!!!

Here’s picture of what the area looked like in 1920:

The intersection of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights boulevards, circa 1920. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection.

Here’s what Sunset Blvd looked like in 1939!  My, oh my, how we’ve changed!!!

The Sunset Strip in 1939. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection

What’s in a name?  The original name chosen by those who founded the church was “Hollywood Presbyterian Church.”  The folks at “First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood” who used the nickname “Hollywood Presbyterian” weren’t too happy with that, so the Presbytery of Los Angeles “convinced” our folks to name our Church “West Hollywood Presbyterian.”   The name was chosen because we are located on the west side of Hollywood.  The City of West Hollywood did not come into existence until 1985. And just for the record, we are still one block outside of the City boundary of West Hollywood.  When WeHo City officials chide me about not being within the City boundary, yet using “their” name, I remind them we had it first!  As best as we can tell, we were the first “West Hollywood” anything!

During the last 99 years, West Hollywood Church has gone through many changes.  We’ve had four distinctly different “congregations,” at least 4 distinctly different ministries, three buildings, and who knows how many different neighborhoods. You name it and almost everything has changed here, with one exception.  Since 1956 we’ve only had two pastors!  Yup, that’s me and my predecessor, Dr. Ross Greek.  Now that’s pastoral stability in times of intensive change!

A few months ago, President Obama set off a fire storm among Republicans when he made a statement that said something of the nature that “none of us is where we are today without the help of others.”  He was speaking about the development of business and was referring to infrastructure, education, and so on.   The opposition jumped all over him and had signs saying “I built it myself!”

When it comes to faith, our faith experience is uniquely our own.  There is no right or wrong faith experience.  My faith experience is my faith experience.  Your faith is experience is your faith experience.  Or as we say in the UCC, we do not have “tests” of faith; but “testimonies” of faith.  There is no right or wrong answer.  However, as people of faith, the faith we have is never “just our own.”  Our faith story is always influenced and formed by our ancestors of the faith.  You can’t have Christian faith without going back to Jesus and those who followed him and told his story.  And we at West Hollywood Church would not even “be” today were it not for those 54 persons who gathered in a store front at Gardner St and Sunset Blvd on Nov. 2, 1913 to form a church.  And miraculously, the generations who follow us tomorrow would never be who they are going to be were it not for our brave move on May 12, 2012 when we left the Presbyterian Church and became a member of the United Church of Christ.

God has a unique way of leading us forward into the future, and fortunately this church has been very open to where God is leading us.  But each year on All Saints Sunday we stop to remember that none of us would be where we are today, were it not for the Saints of God who went before us and shaped the Way that would influence us – our lives, our beliefs, our ministry.  This year as we celebrate our 99th birthday and our first year of being a member of the United Church of Christ, we have a lot to remember and be thankful for.  We also have shaped the future of West Hollywood Church in a way that has not happened since our formation.  These are exciting and great times for us.

This Sunday we begin a year of remembering and celebrating our past as we rejoice in our new future!  Each step of the way, we will remember and give thanks for all the Saints who went before us, even as we are the next generation of saints of our church!




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 4: 1-13

Moses asked, “But what if they do not believe me or even listen to me?  What if they say, “God has not appeared to you!?”

Then God asked Moses, “What do you have in your hand?”

“My staff,” Moses replied.

God said, “Throw it on the ground.”

Moses threw it to the ground, and it became a snake.  Moses recoiled from it in horror.

Then God said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and grab it by the tail.”  Moses reached out his hand, grabbed the snake, and it became a staff in his hand once again.

“This is how they will trust that God, the God of their ancestors – the God of Sara and Abraham, of Rebecca and Isaac and of Leah and Rachel and Jacob – has appeared to you.”

Then God said, “Put your hand inside your tunic.”  Moses did as instructed, putting his hand inside his tunic; and when he pulled it out the hand was snowy white with leprosy.  God said, “Put your hand back into your tunic.”  Moses put it back into the tunic, and when he took it out again it was restored, and like the rest of his skin.

Then God said, “If they disbelieve you, and do not believe the message of the first sign, they might believe the second.  But it they disbelieve both miraculous signs and don’t even listen to your message, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground.  it will turn into blood.”

Then Moses said to the Holy One, “Please, my God, I am not good with words.  I wasn’t yesterday, nor the day before, nor am I now, even after you spoke to me.  I speak slowly, and with a speech impediment.”

God replied, “Who taught people to speak in the first place?  Who, if not I, your God?”  Now go!  I will be with you when you speak.  I will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Please, my God, please send someone else.  Not me.”

Hebrews 11 – 12:2 (selected verses)

The Meaning of Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The Faith of Abraham

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because God considered Abraham and Sarah faithful.* 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’13.

The Faith of Moses

23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.* 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of economic prosperity. 2627By faith Moses left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger. 28By faith he kept the Passover.*

The Faith of Other Israelite Heroes

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient,* because she had received the spies in peace.

The Example of Jesus

12Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

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