The Inland Empire’s religious melting pot

Hemet serves the needs of many different faiths

■ By Ann Smith / Contributed

I read with interest, Chris Smith’s article on the Presbyterian Church of Hemet in the Oct. 25 edition of The Valley Chronicle. I attended The Hollywood Presbyterian Church for several years myself while I was searching for my religious pathway.
That was the period when the nationally recognized Rev. Lloyd John Ogilvie led a mega-congregation of 3,000 plus in the mid- to late 70’s. (Ogilvie was the Hollywood minister who in 1995 was elected U.S. Senate Chaplain but at the same time was the target of a lawsuit by a woman who claimed he talked her out of having an abortion after she became pregnant by an elder in Ogilvie’s church!)
Nevertheless, in the 70’s attending Hollywood Presbyterian was a lovely experience. But ultimately, it was one from which I moved away. I tried other spiritual avenues finding them just as unsatisfactory (from a personal standpoint). I wouldn’t have called myself an atheist, but I certainly wasn’t an ardent believer of the faith.
Scripture tells me “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). I didn’t believe it. I figured I’m a good person, I’ll get to this so-called “heaven.” I didn’t want to hear anyone else’s side of the story.
I grew up in a rather secular Jewish home, a child of the exploding 1950’s. I guess you would call me a baby boomer having been born in post-war 1945. I went to religious school for a year before my father announced one day: “I don’t pay to pray.” I had no clue what that meant. What it meant was the annual pledge to the synagogue. It was a reform synagogue. That was the end of my formal education in Judaism.
Unlike Christianity, at that time, there were three main groups within Judaism: the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements. Sometime leading up to the 1940s, the Reconstructionist movement was formed. You might call these four groups denominations, but they were called movements. There are other smaller groups within the major groups. There is also a group that identifies itself as Messianic Jews, those believing the Messiah has come and, like other Christian denominations, will come back. We do have a Messianic Congregation in Hemet.
In the early 1990’s, I had a desire, once again, to know about this thing called God. Who or what was he? Once more, I wandered into the confusing maze of multiple and multifaceted denominations. The number of denominations out there is staggering. There may be one God, but there are literally thousands of ways to worship him/her. (Lest we offend someone, we have to attribute some sort of sexual identity to this super being.)
Just how many Christian denominations are there? For starters, there are the Catholics and Protestants. There are hundreds of protestant denominations: Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Southern Baptists, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Salvation Army church is essentially a Methodist branch, Church of the Nazarene (also a branch of the Methodist denomination). Let’s not forget the Pentecostals. I forged my way into that denomination for many years, also leaving it for greener pastures.
A short list of Pentecostal denominations includes Assembly of God, Apostolic Church, Church of God, and United Pentecostal International. Non-denominational churches have a growing presence in America, too. The best known is Calvary Chapel, which has grown into a fellowship of over 1300 churches.
I tried the “mix and match” method, trying to find what suited my lifestyle. As a lapsed Jew (yes, both my parents were Jewish), I even tried Messianic Judaism. Happily, for me personally, it turned out to be not about denomination but about God – what I believe to be a supernatural being.
I’m in a Southern Baptist church now, and I sure hope this one is my last! As Pastor Ron Ritter so aptly describes in his faith piece in the Chronicle’s Oct. 25 edition, it’s about Jesus Christ’s ministries and missions; we are called to proclaim “the good news.”
The above lists do not include the popular Hindu faith, Islamic beliefs, and the Baha’i Faith. Baha’i is a religion starting in Iran that teaches the essential worth of all religions and claims some 6 million adherents, some of whom are right here in Hemet.
Having attended the local Episcopalian fellowship in Hemet, I believe the oldest church in our community, they are experiencing pretty much the same conundrum many churches are going through – declining numbers and a lack of younger attendees. Several of the established churches in town have been having problems attracting committed pastoral leaders.
Did you know there are bilingual congregations in Hemet? I attended one such fellowship for several years. Life got in the way, and I made some changes. Isn’t that usually the case? Television church is so much more convenient, isn’t it? Not for me it isn’t. I need real people.
We humans crave fellowship with one another, whether it be to worship a God of our understanding (or lack thereof) or a mutually satisfying relationship (we’re talking “sin” here folks, according to the scripture).
The Interfaith Council does its best to foster a sense of inclusiveness between the diverse groups of believers, including but not limited to, the Church of Religious Science and Scientology.
Would you like to hear about the outreach of Scientology? I’m a genuine Christian (in my opinion), and I don’t have to agree with, or like, the religious tenets of some of the groups out there. But I do respect the time, energy and generosity of those groups. Scientology, for instance, donates its resources to many nonprofits in our community. Without those contributions, there would be far fewer fundraisers by such groups as the Hemet Library Foundation and others.
By the way, there is the cultural phenomenon of 12-step recovery that proclaims a “higher power” concept. Don’t pooh pooh it. It makes possible the life restoration of many people who otherwise would be doomed to failure and disaster.
The point that I wish to make is that you can find something to suit your tastes. I personally believe there is a place for God in Hemet. Witness the numerous food pantries at many of our religious fellowships, the massive social outreach of The Salvation Army, the strong ministries to the homeless, and many other devoted and loving people living here. I happen to be one who believes that I am “called” (as only God can do). Trust me folks, I did not call myself to anything. I just wanted a life – you know, a normal life, with a house, a white picket fence, a decent job, and, hopefully, a faithful husband to go along with it. As it turns out, that’s not what happened. However, I have found many loving groups of people in Hemet within small conclaves that we call church.
There is something for everyone within our very diverse community. Whether we like it or not, we have it all here in Hemet. We have lots of bars and churches happily coexisting, religious and secular institutions, as well as cultural organizations – you name it. Where else can you go and find a growing community of believers, non believers, the homeless, even the addicted, all managing to live side by side. There has to be some kind of power that makes that possible, wouldn’t you agree?

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