Pauley Perrette (front), NCIS star and Hollywood UMC member boldly leads the congregation in a social justice parade in Los Angeles.
Hollywood UMC/Chad Darnell
Lights, Camera, Mission!
By Wickham Boyle*
The huge banner on the Hollywood United Methodist Church website proclaims “We Believe That God is LOVE!” It is one thing to proclaim it and quite another to evince and live it—especially in a town such as Hollywood, California, where so many believe that life is all about the hype, the pitch, and the box office.
Hollywood UMC, a majestic structure that stands on the corner of N. Highland Avenue and Franklin Avenue, was founded as a sanctuary of hope in 1909. Yet, it took a while before the church finally occupied the Los Angeles landscape. A number of geological setbacks such as soft sand and sinking earth—the usual Los Angeles problems—gave the stalwart builders a challenge. But faith prevailed and the church finally opened in 1930. Hollywood UMC is such a prepossessing building that in 1983 the city of Los Angeles declared it a historic landmark.
How do they maintain landmark status and minister to a congregation? Well, under the stewardship of the Reverend Kathy Cooper-Ledesma, the 14th pastor of Hollywood UMC, the size and scope of the congregation has grown immensely over the years—up 60 percent from the time of her appointment in July 2006. Rev. Cooper-Ledesma has worked tirelessly to grow this urban congregation into a vibrant and progressive reconciling United Methodist community, right in the heart of Hollywood. Under her leadership, a dedicated, talented staff reaches out to all manner of folks and raises funds for the needy in disaster areas around the world, and around the corner in the broken-down sections of Los Angeles.
Through one outreach, the church sent five teams to Camp Gulfside in Mississippi to focus on advocacy work for social justice issues.
The secret, according to Chad Darnell, the director of communications for Hollywood UMC, is “We have a message of inclusion, we are open to everyone. At our services you will see a movie star sitting next to a homeless person. We welcome with open arms and that spirit is deeply felt.”
As an aside, Mr. Darnell has a wonderful backstory. He came to work at Hollywood UMC in 2005 when he was a casting director looking to find a pastor to play the lead role for a funeral scene in an episode of Alias. He found former pastor Ed Hansen to play the role and casted him. By then, Mr. Darnell was hooked to the church and stayed on to help.
Other members of Hollywood UMC, such as NCIS star Pauley Perrette, have partnered with the United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign and United Methodist Committee on Relief's (UMCOR) work with the Imagine No Malaria campaign. The church has supported the people of Haiti and Japan after devastating disasters, as well as people in the middle of the US that were struck by a string of violent storms last spring.
Hollywood UMC has a banner campaign that is very visible from the historic church. It proclaims many different inspirational messages and always trumpets the idea that “all are welcome.” Mr. Darnell proudly touts that Hollywood UMC was one of the largest participants in the “No Hate Campaign,” reminding anyone who would listen, and on occasion, some who were less open-hearted, that “hate is not a Christian value.”
The work done in Hollywood has an impact across the globe, and their banners remind everyone of the values that shine so brightly from that congregation.
*Wickham Boyle is a writer and a regular contributor to umcor.org.