Shock, sadness and frustration are just a few of the emotions people are feeling at the news that Crescent Heights United Methodist is closing.
The church, located on the southeast corner of Fountain and Fairfax, has become a victim of a dwindling congregation, said Scott Imler, a pastor at Crescent Heights United Methodist since 2005. Because the West Hollywood parish is longer financially viable, officials from the Los Angeles district of the United Methodist Church have decided to discontinue it.
“It’s tragic,” said Aaron Jacobs, who has been attending services there for nearly three years. “This shouldn’t be happening.”
There are currently 39 official members on the books, but Imler said the church is lucky to get 15 to show up for services. “There were days when I worried whether we were going to have two [people],” Imler told Patch.
Despite its small number, the congregation wants to continue. When asked in June by church district officials to affirm the Resolution for Discontinuance, only two members out of the 14 in attendance voted to put themselves out of business.
“We want to still be here,” said one member, “but they won’t let us.”
Congregants, friends and city officials gathered for a special service Sunday to remember the 97-year-old church’s rich history. The church will conduct its final services on Aug. 28.
The audience Sunday numbered about three dozen. They were black, white, Hispanic and Asian, gay and straight, young and old. The first song of the service was one of acceptance, “Let It Be” by the Beatles.
“We’re going to be writing history today just as surely as we have over the last six years and the last 97,” Imler said at the start of the service.
“We have no hard feelings,” Imler went on to say. “We know that everyone is doing their job the way they believe God is telling them to do it.”
Found in the attic
Around the altar, Imler placed many items found in the church’s attic—old books, hymnals, papers, posters, photographs and church documents. There was even a banner announcing a play, Alabamy Bound, put on by the Crescent Players. No year was on the banner, but admission to the play was 35 cents.
Crescent Heights United Methodist Church held its first services on April 12, 1914, when members of the Hollywood Methodist Church decided there was a need for Sunday school services in the Crescent Heights area. The first services were held in a mess tent.
Three churches have been built on the site over the years. As the congregation grew, the members kept building bigger churches.
Blueprints for a fourth church were also found in the attic. That church would have been a grand, ornate building with columns and spires, “a Vatican-like building,” as Imler described it. “Want to see some interesting dreams? Look at those blueprints,” Imler said.
Good times, bad times
Over the years, the church has seen many good and some bad times. Rev. Tom Reinhart-Marean, who was pastor there from 1983 to 1985, came back to speak at the remembrance service Sunday. He said when he arrived, cobwebs covered the walls, many lights were not working, and congregants spent time rolling newspapers for recycling to help fund the church.
Reinhart-Marean, who offered the invocation at the 1984 chartering of the city of West Hollywood, said he opened the doors to groups needing rehearsal space as well as 12-step groups needing meeting places.
Rev. John Griffin, who served as pastor from 1999 to 2005, also returned for the remembrance service. He said the congregation was quite small when he arrived and few people knew the hymns, so his musical director, a former Broadway actress, suggested they do Broadway tunes.
Those show tunes proved quite popular, bringing in many new congregants and allowing the church to thrive again.
“The way to success is butts in the pews and dollars in the collection plate,” Imler told Patch, noting that when Griffin left, the people who loved the Broadway tunes left too.
Mayor John Duran shared in the mourning at the service, but gave those who gathered a sense of hope. “What was ultimately important is what happened here,” Duran said. “What really matters here is the people and the relationships.”
Ministry of hospitality
Although the Sunday services are being discontinued, the church will remain open as a ministry of hospitality, at least for now. Twelve-step programs and other groups will continue to meet there.
“Everything else will continue except for the Sunday morning services,” Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth, the superintendent of the United Methodist Church's LA district, told Patch. “Our hope, our strategy is that we will continue. Our commitment is to still be here. That is the message. It doesn’t benefit anyone to have another empty building.”
Imler says there is no church without the congregation. “The congregation is the heart of any church. There’s talk of making us an extension ministry, but that’s a ministry without a congregation,” Imler said, also lamenting that the city will lose its last remaining Protestant church when Crescent Heights Methodist closes.
One attendee at the remembrance service wondered about the dwindling number of churches and synagogues in West Hollywood. “We’ve got plenty of bars, more every day, but fewer churches,” he said. “It seems out of balance.”