By Michael J. ARVIZU
Cloudy skies could not dampen the bright mood of current and former members of Christian Life Church in La Crescenta on Sunday, as they gathered under a white tent to celebrate the church’s 90th anniversary.
But the celebration wasn’t just about the 90th anniversary. Christian Life Church Pastor Ray Foster also announced plans to build a new 7,500 square foot sanctuary to replace the church’s former sanctuary that was destroyed in a massive, late-evening fire just prior to Christmas in 2006. No one was injured in the fire, but the sanctuary, built in 1951, and La Crescenta Christian School were a total loss.
The new sanctuary will face roughly in the same direction as the old church, have a peaked roof, and seat about 188 people. It will feature a bell-tower-like structure built above the front entrance, giving the church a more modern look, said Foster. The sanctuary will have green space surrounding it where visitors can sit for quiet prayer and meditation and serve as a gathering space for people.
Sunday’s celebration was the culmination of six years of work to build a new home for Christian Life Church, which saw many of its congregants leave and its ministries close when the fire destroyed the church school.
“Ninety years, it’s fantastic,” said former church member John Rowe. “It’s fantastic so see.”
The Rev. T. Ray Rachels, then-district superintendent and now general council executive presbyter of Southern California Assemblies of God, Christian Life Church’s governing body, chose Foster to lead Christian Life Church based on Foster’s experience building new churches. Speaking at Sunday’s event, Rachels credited Foster and his staff for their efforts in rebuilding Christian Life Church.
“I salute the pastor and the deacons for making this place look so fabulous,” Rachels said. “There are unspoken, unheralded people all over this campus. We are here because we love this church.”
Throughout the church’s worship space, old black and white photographs taped to the walls chronicled the early years of the Christian Life Church, known then as Church of the Assemblies of God; a digital slide show projected images of more recent church activities onto a white screen.
Sisters Sheri Hancock and Jenny Carry, former Christian Life Church members, spent a few minutes before the celebration trying to pick themselves out of one black and white photograph, which showed a group of people from the 1954 congregation gathered in front of the 3-year-old church. Another 1954 photograph showed the sisters’ grandmother holding their infant mother as they posed with a group of church members.
Hancock and Carry’s grandfather Vance Rowe helped build the church on the corner of Montrose and Ramsdell avenues in 1951, they said. Their great-grandfather Abe McCoy was one of the architects.
“It’s awesome,” said Hancock, as she stared at the photographs. “I got married in the church and we attended here. We were born and raised here.”
The new church will also have a relic of the old sanctuary in the form of two pieces of charred wood from the old church frame. The pieces were collected by then-Christian Life Church Pastor Tim Manchester among the ruins of the old sanctuary shortly after the fire and fashioned into a cross. The cross will be inset into a wall of the new sanctuary and represents a rising out of the ashes, Foster said.
“Jesus was crucified on the cross, but he didn’t stay there and hang there. He was raised from the dead,” he said. “That’s the hope that all of us have. To us, this is a piece of our past, but shows us our future is in the cross as well.”
Foster hopes to break ground for the new church in time for Easter in 2013. Funds for rebuilding have come mostly from insurance settlements, and donations from church members and the community. A banner that reads, “Come Join Us as We Grow” will be placed on the church’s perimeter fence, in view of motorists and passersby on Ramsdell and Montrose avenues.
Foster, in his remarks to church members on Sunday, hopes the church will continue to “meet the needs of and be a lighthouse for the community.”
“I believe that God is going to do a good thing,” he said. “We’re excited. The best years of this church are ahead of us.”