In what began as a conversation about the movement of God in the City of Angels a few years ago in the form of a three-day conference continued last summer in a panel discussion with four pastors from four corners of the county. And in light of all that’s transpired over the last three years, with God still on the throne, it’s important to continue that conversation.
BY ALEX MURASHKO
Los Angeles, like other major cities in the U.S., has become an even greater flash point for communal voices meeting in such places as City Hall to display a viral sort of anger that has escalated to unprecedented heights. A physical statement at ground zero for all demonstrations (protest and celebratory) doesn’t even scratch the surface of the dangerous vitriol taking place online through media of all sorts.
That’s why we felt it important to republish parts of the discussion from the summer of 2017 with links to other related stories at TLA below.
Is there hope for the City of Angels even though it often appears so broken, so filled with spiritual poverty among its people that a diagnosis may very well be — beyond repair?
The answer as expressed by the four pastors that met at Metropolis Santa Monica was a resounding: “Yes, there is hope!”
The pastors on the panel were Steve Snook of Santa Monica, Michael Mata of Koreatown, Cedric Nelms of Long Beach, and Brannin Pitre of Pasadena, all sharing their heart for the city they not only minister to but reside in.
Michael Mata, director of the transformational urban leadership program at Azusa Pacific Seminary and a Together LA speaker, is an experienced urban planner and pastor. He has spent over 30 years in leading and equipping others in urban transformation through the creation of community and church-based programs. His work has focused on community transformation, youth leadership development, public health, intercultural outreach, and multiethnic ministry. Mata serves as community transformation specialist for Compassion Creates Change, Inc., and was the director of Tools for Transformation for World Vision’s U.S. programs.
Mata lives in and loves his neighborhood — Koreatown.
“Even though it’s called Koreatown, 70 percent of the people are not Asian,” Mata told TLA. “Even with this great vitality of humanity it’s broken in that we don’t have the interaction as we should.
“We live in close proximity to each other, almost 200,000 people within two-and-a-half square miles, and we bump into each other and we eat in the same places and we hear each other’s music but we’re not necessarily connected. Rarely do we actually know the name of our neighbors — actually I do, but many people don’t.
“[Residents] live in high rises, in homes they’ve invested in, they live with multiple families or extended families, and they are struggling to survive because even though there’s a sense of great economic energy there, the per capita is one of the lowest in L.A. County.”
Immigrants and young professionals consumed with ‘making it’
“So, you have a population that’s come to the United States who are contributing and being very productive but it seems their lives are consumed with ‘making it,’ maybe not so much becoming affluent, but certainly surviving,” Mata explained. “In that regard, we need spaces, we need a way to come together. Certainly in 1992, when our community was the second flashpoint in the riots, our community did come together.”
Churches in the area and various religious institutions gathered together, he said, and asked “How are we going to rebuild together?”
Within less than a year, Koreatown did rebuild, he said.
The infusion of energy and “new life and looking for the future” gave way to a retreat of sorts.
“We all went back to our regular spaces of work, relationships, and of cultural identity,” Mata said. “So those spaces or that bridge are sorely lacking and that’s where I think the faith community can come in.
“We have great historic sanctuaries in K-town. Beautiful French-Gothic structures, some of them thousands of square feet, but on Sunday mornings they are pretty empty because the populations that once populated the pews are no longer living in the area. We have a new influx of not just immigrant people but young professionals and some churches are being more successful at that.
“But that’s the space where God calls us to be reconcilers,” he adds. “We need to step up as a faith community to be that person, or that facility, or that body that brings people together and helps us to know one another even though we may not have the same beliefs or traditions. Nonetheless, we are living in the same space so why not move beyond just residing to becoming members or members of a community becoming neighbors to one another.”
In talking about Pasadena, Pitre said, “We have a context in which we are divided racially. We’re divided economically. We are divided by educational bounds. We’re divided by political bounds. There’s just a great sense that at any given block in the city of Pasadena you’ll find somebody that’s completely different and aligned differently from you, which can cause a great sense of brokenness.
“My joy in that is that it also provides an endless sense of opportunity.”
Videos and photos by One Ten Pictures.
Read Pitre’s discussion about how the Together LA conference, held more than three years ago, happened in a two part series at the Christian Post here: Interview Church Planter Brannin Pitre: Los Angeles Is on the ‘Cusp’ of a New Mov’t; How Tim Keller’s Church Supported Vision LA (Pt. 1) and here: ‘Together LA’ Organizers: There’s More to Loving a City Than Planting Churches (Pt. 2)
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