A May 14 article in Metro about Hollywood First Presbyterian Church in California incorrectly stated that Lloyd Ogilvie is the U.S. Senate chaplain. The Senate chaplain is Barry C. Black.
A Church Clash
Saturday, May 14, 2005
LOS ANGELES - When the Rev. Alan Meenan took over as senior pastor at the nationally prominent Hollywood First Presbyterian Church, it had been losing members for 20 years.
Now, hundreds of new worshipers are flocking to an alternative service staged by the church at a nearby nightclub that offers live rock music and a casual atmosphere that doesn't frown on flip-flops and nose piercings.
The service, called Contemporary Urban Experience, has bolstered membership at one of the most storied Presbyterian congregations in the country. But it has also created a deep rift between old and new members that threatens to tear the conservative church apart.
Responding to numerous complaints about Meenan, regional church officials, in a rare step, took control of operations at Hollywood First last week and put Meenan and his executive pastor on paid administrative leave to restore the peace.
The turmoil in the 2,700-member congregation reflects what experts call the "worship war," an identity crisis that has beset many mainline Protestant denominations as they struggle to survive in a culture that puts less importance on the traditions of organized religion.
Membership among Presbyterian churches has declined by as many as 40,000 people a year since the mid-1960s, said Jerry Van Marter, news director at Presbyterian Church USA.
Nearly all mainline Protestant denominations have experienced similar declines, as clashes have developed not only over worship style but issues such as the ordination of women and the role of gays in the church.
The decline has been especially painful at Hollywood First, where the congregation helped launch evangelists Billy Graham and Lloyd Ogilvie, who is now the U.S. Senate chaplain. It was home to Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Henrietta Mears, author of the popular Sunday school curriculum Gospel Light.
"Hollywood Presbyterian is the elite," said congregant Teena Smith, who until recently attended a nondenominational megachurch in Atlanta. "People against Meenan say . . . 'That's great. Move to alternative. But not in our back yard." '
The rift over worship is something that William McKinney, president of the Pacific School of Religion at University of California at Berkeley, has seen before.
"You try to identify the kernel of the Gospel -- and that you don't mess with. But your presentation needs to be sensitive to cultural change," he said. "This is a question that mainline folk wrestle with: Has the sacredness of the organ been elevated to a point where Jesus gets lost?"
At Hollywood First, the trouble began when Meenan launched the Contemporary Urban Experience, or CUE, services more than two years ago. The weekly Sunday service has attracted about 350 twenty- and thirty-somethings, some with tattoos and piercings. Many work in the entertainment industry.