Easter Morning With Tim Allen, The Mayor And A Sax-Playing Priest

Los Angeles, CA: I wanted to avoid writing about The Great Church Search while I was away from home, so I didn't feel obligated to find a church in a strange city, figure out how to get there, review it even though I would probably never go there again... basically, I was trying to avoid making it feel like work.

But, this past Sunday was Easter and it's one of the big two holidays that Christian folk usually get to a church, no matter what their ordinary-time-church-going looks like.  Plus, LA isn't a strange city.  Errr - scratch that. What I meant was: LA is a VERY strange city, but I have lived here before, so finding a church wouldn't be hard at all.  In fact, I knew the exact church I wanted to go to since it was my church back when I was a California girl.

So, against my better judgement (but so worth the experience!), I bring you: The Great Church Search - LA Edition.

Aesthetics:  I met with my sweet friend, Mary, at 9:30am for the 10am service, since I knew it would be busier on this particular Sunday.  It was a good thing since there was a line (around the block!) to get into the church, once the 8:30am service had let out. It felt like I was standing in line for a Hollywood nightclub -- everyone was dressed to the 9s, ready to be moved -- sans alcohol (except for the wine at communion).  The church itself is off of the 10 at La Brea, in an ethnic-diverse area, offering two additional services after this one, both in Spanish.

Greeting:  People at St. Agatha's aren't just friendly, they're over the top excited to see you.  We were greeted while in line, then when we entered, then while we sat, then by the priest as he made his way to the back of the church, before making his procession back to the altar.  You really can't sneak into this place unnoticed.

Community:  Again, since more people were here on Easter than any other plain ol' Sunday (present company included), the church was packed.  I'm talking 900+ people (of all ages), with some of them sitting outside in a courtyard with a TV monitor since they couldn't all fit inside.  The thing that struck me the most was the mix of color -- from the decorated poles inside the church of pink, blue and yellow to the mix of race -- African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Asian, Indian. All together on a beautiful sunny California morning.
Music:  As soon as I entered the building, I remembered that the 10am was the gospel mass.  As I've mentioned before, music plays a huge part of my personal experience at a church. With a full band (guitar, bass, drums, keys), an amazing choir (including a contestant on The Voice -- only in LA!) and a church full of hand-clapping, I felt the spirit moving me... to move!

Service:  Raised Catholic, this service followed the traditional order I am used to, with call & responses I could repeat in my sleep.  Except that now there is new wording (which I still don't quite understand the WHY behind the change).  Luckily, we were provided with cheat sheets so we could follow along and not completely out ourselves for not knowing the new language (since some of us haven't been here since... Christmas).  However, I still vacillated between feelings of familiarity and monotony.

Message:  The charismatic minister was a guest priest who celebrates the 10am mass every second Sunday of the month here.  (Yay for Easter falling on #2 in April!)  Fr. Joseph Idomele -- Fada Joe -- as he was referred to on one Google Search, was a bit long-winded (though joked about people not coming back if they knew he was preaching) and a tad hard to understand (speaking with a thick Nigerian accent), but offered a great Easter mantra -- which he made us repeat - outloud to each other -- in order to drive it home:

God's plan
is sweeter
and better
and bigger
than my plan

I know that in my mind, but as a planner by nature (and by career), it's hard for me to grasp that there's a bigger & better (and sweeter!) plan out there for me that I haven't already figured out.  Since I'm trying to have a more "whatever happens is supposed to happen how it happens" mental state recently, this mantra was perfect to hear.

But the best part about Fada Joe?  He played the saxophone during the service.  I seriously don't think I've seen a priest do anything as random and cool as that, except maybe Pope John Paul II watching a breakdancer.

Denomination:  St. Agatha's is a Catholic church.  The word itself means "including a wide variety of things; all-embracing" or can also mean "of the Roman Catholic faith."  The actual religion is the world's largest Christian church and teaches that it is the "one true faith." They are opposed to women in church leadership and same-sex marriages.  And there are over 10,000 saints who have been canonized with a list of names that would put any baby-name-books to shame.

Overall:  My experience at this particular church on this particular Sunday was a sweet reminder of the religion I was raised in and still claim as part of my heritage.  It warmed my heart to see people that I saw in 2000 still there after 12 years.  I love that I was welcomed back into the community (even though no one knew me from that time) and believe that God's love is with me no matter where I go, from church to church or city to city.

2610 S Mansfield Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
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Reflections on the Journey Thus Far:  I find it so lovely that a simple blog about my personal journey of faith would lead me to sharing my Easter morning in Los Angeles with my friend Mary (from working together one time on a show a few years ago). I additionally (and totally randomly) ran into my friend, Percy, who I worked with on another show last year.  Such a small, beautiful world!

One More Thing: Not only did I hang with friends, but in typical (yet humorously amazing) LA fashion, Tim Allen took up the collection and the Mayor of LA took up the gifts.  Nothing like seeing celebrities and public figures doing the same things as you: loving God and loving one another, together.