From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
CHURCHES FACE TOUGH CHOICES ONE YEAR AFTER L.A. QUAKES
05 May 1996 12:57:38
95116 CHURCHES FACE TOUGH CHOICES ONE YEAR AFTER L.A. QUAKES
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Though two Presbyterian churches in Los Angeles were razed
at the city's expense after 1994's winter earthquake, two other PC(USA)
congregations are still debating what to do with their sagging sanctuaries.
Estimated repairs easily run over $1 million -- and demolition and
rebuilding would cost even more for both the St. James Presbyterian Church
in Tarzana and Faith United Presbyterian Church in northeast Los Angeles.
Both congregations have to make decisions soon -- and pay for the
outcome without city assistance. Though both sanctuaries were extensively
damaged, neither was condemned.
The City of Los Angeles has already cited Faith United for
noncompliance with an order to either tear down or repair its damaged
building, though the congregation intends to appeal for an extension of its
deadline at a city hearing soon. St. James is wrestling with whether its
members will ever feel safe in its present sanctuary again -- and is
planning three days of prayer in early May to discern the congregation's
"There just hasn't been the will to tear it down," said the Rev. Jim
Stochl, stated supply pastor of the small Faith United congregation, which
is housed in a 70-year-old building listed as a potential historic landmark
in a Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles. The congregation has both
English and Spanish language worship services.
"The roof looks like a lid on a shoebox that just pulled away," said
Stochl, who says the repair estimate for such heavy damage runs about $2
million. Demolition is estimated at $300,000, with $100,000 going for
refilling the empty foundation with soil. San Gabriel Presbytery has
already secured a $90,000 grant for Faith United from Presbyterian World
Pews and organ pipes could be salvaged and the session is considering
selling off the brick facade on the sanctuary itself, Stochl said. Worship
is now held in the church's library but will be moved to an adjacent
multipurpose building in early May.
The Rev. Ken Baker of Tarzana tells a similar story.
"The price tag on repair goes up every month. Now it's at $1 million
... and I can't reassure people it won't go up from there," he said, adding
that more damage to the shaken building appears the longer it sits. The
session figures it will cost at least $2 million to duplicate the present
1,000-seat sanctuary, though a smaller multipurpose building may cost less.
"Building committee members really don't see a way to effectively manage
that kind of debt," he said.
The St. James congregation now worships in its fellowship hall or in a
tent lent by Pittsburgh Presbytery.
Major decisions like this one are draining, according to Baker, when
people's energy and stamina are tied up in crises elsewhere too. "We still
have people whose houses aren't fixed -- aren't even started," he said,
noting the church at least qualifies for about $400,000 in loans from the
General Assembly and the Small Business Administration combined.
St. James is just one of many churches in San Fernando Presbytery
damaged in the earthquake. The Rev. John Moody of the now demolished North
Hollywood church, says many families have had to cope with multiple losses:
lost jobs because some companies folded rather than foot the bill to repair
damaged operations, lost dreams because homes were wrecked and people
"If all we had to deal with was a broken building, it might be a
different ball game," Moody said, whose congregation now worships in a
small chapel on its campus. "But we weren't given that opportunity."
Former earthquake relief coordinator the Rev. Jane Newstead of San
Fernando Presbytery concurs. "People here have some semblance of normality
in their lives again -- but that includes cracked walls in their homes and
in their church school rooms. It includes a lot of vacant lots, gutted
buildings and trash piled on streets.
"Evidence of the earthquake is everywhere," she said, adding that
there are predictions for more quakes within the next 20 years.
Acquiring earthquake insurance with those odds, Newstead said, is not
really a possibility for churches or for many homeowners, since deductibles
are rapidly going up.
In the meantime, the Korean-American congregation of the Good
Samaritan Presbyterian Church is nested within a Hispanic church in
Glendale, which is outside the bounds of Pacific Presbytery, while it looks
for a place to rent within the presbytery itself. The city ordered its
former sanctuary demolished months ago.
"It will not be easy for the time being," says Kyung Kwak, the wife of
the pastor, the Rev. Gun Yong Kwak, of the 50-member congregation. She
says buying another building is only a long-term strategy because the
church has no real savings.
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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