Filling the pews – part 5: When there are no pews to fill

Photo by Mark SHELTON Destroyed by fire in December 2006, the four walls of Christian Life Church at Montrose and Rosemont avenues might be gone, but Pastor Randy Foster meets weekly with his congregation in classrooms near the back of the property.

By Brandon HENSLEY

“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Matthew 5:45

Four years ago during Christmas week, the evil came upon Christian Life Church and devoured it, engulfing the building in flames.

In a season of Christmas miracles, this was a sobering reminder that even people who are just and places that are holy can suffer. By the time the fire had been extinguished, only walls and a blackened steeple stood.

So now, four years later, what has happened to the church that used to occupy the corner of Montrose and Ramsdell avenues? As it turns out, the church is still standing, although that’s mostly figurative.

Former Pastor Tim Manchester has moved to Texas. Four months ago Randy Foster and his family took Manchester’s place. Now the challenge has begun for Foster: How do you fill the pews when there are no pews to fill?

“If God wants us to build on that property we’ll build there,” Foster said.

That property is still fenced off, still full of dirt and still has no definite time table for rebuilding. The church submitted plans to L.A. County, but they said major revisions would have to be done.

“We’re deciding at this point if we want to redesign completely or what we want to do. We’re not fully decided yet,” said Foster, who said he hoped something will get started within the next year.

Still, the church meets near the back of the property in classrooms. It’s a makeshift way of celebrating God, but it will have to do for now. The congregation is now around 50 people.

Eventually, Foster said he would like the front of the property to be made into a park-like area, with grass and trees. Until that day comes, Christian Life Church is all about the less fortunate, according to Foster.

“When we see these people do we tend to look the other way, or do we reach into our pockets and buy them lunch?” said Foster. “Are we willing to take the coat off our back and be willing to give it to someone who doesn’t have one?”

Foster said he knows people that just a year or two ago had normal lives. They had cars and houses, but now, because of the changing of the times, they are going through hard days of which they never dreamed would come. So Foster said helping is what he preaches.

“The church is a place where people get fired up and encouraged, strengthened in their faith and then they go out and do something with it.”

If Jesus were living in today’s world, “He probably would not be necessarily coming to our churches, he’d be out touching those that are disenfranchised from society,” Foster said.

The church helps out with school supplies and books for La Crescenta Elementary. “Again, it’s all part of the philosophy that we’re not here for ourselves. We’re here to help others,” Foster said.

Foster is from Southern California, and has ministered in Orange County and upstate in Visalia. He has a background in building churches. It took 10 years of overcoming red tape to build one in Visalia, but Foster did it. Still, he said it’s more important to build families.

He wants to turn the small house next to the classrooms into a student life center, another way for the Church to grow. But there comes the catch-22.

“It’s important that the church grows so we can build, but the other side of that coin is that we have to build in order to grow,” Foster said.

And so, he will leave it up to God.

“We’re going to see Him come through,” he said.

Four years later, and maybe it seems God sent rain on just people. But to those at Christian Life Church, the sun has been out for a long time.