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Progressive Laguna Beach church celebrates 75 years

Progressive Laguna Beach church celebrates 75 years
Neighborhood Congregational Church, pictured during a 1960s-era construction project, expanded with a second sanctuary that featured an ark-like structure. The church is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. (Courtesy of Neighborhood Congregational Church)

Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach will celebrate its 75th anniversary Friday with an event highlighting its unique architecture.

The church's event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., includes a tour of the sanctuary. Local architectural historian and writer Ted Wells will lead the presentation.

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Neighborhood Congregational traces its roots to 1943, when it was founded above the Sandpiper bar on South Coast Highway. By 1947, the church began its expansion to its current property at 340 St. Ann's Drive, which it purchased for $25,000.

Its original sanctuary was built in the Mediterranean Revival style, boasting mahogany beams and stained glass windows. It also contained a parsonage, allowing the live-in pastor to have a 12-step commute to work, church officials say.

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The faithful pray and meditate while walking a labyrinth on Good Friday in 2000 at Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach.
The faithful pray and meditate while walking a labyrinth on Good Friday in 2000 at Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach. (File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

Aubrey St. Clair designed the original sanctuary. His work is present around Laguna, including his design of the fire station next to City Hall and the Laguna Beach County Water District headquarters.

In the 1960s, Neighborhood Congregational built a second sanctuary. Its ceiling resembles an upside-down ark and contains extensive artwork given to the church by local artists.

Neighborhood Congregational is a progressive church — in 2006, its members voted to be a congregation that "includes all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, marital status, age, mental or physical ability, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background."

It performed its first gay wedding in 2008, a point of pride for the church, said Kristen Purll, its office and rental manager.

"It's something that we embrace," she said.

Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach expanded to its current property at 340 St. Ann’s Drive in 1947.
Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach expanded to its current property at 340 St. Ann’s Drive in 1947. (File Photo)

Pastor Rodrick Echols said the church has been inclusive throughout its 75-year history. Nowadays, it attracts around 60 to 75 worshippers each Sunday.

"We're still the same open and diverse, inclusive community we were then," Echols said. "Now we have a congregation that is just as open, progressive and affirming."

Neighborhood Congregational's 75th-anniversary celebration will continue in June with a two-day event billed as a world peace and justice weekend. It will include cultural healing, interfaith dialogue and food, Echols said.

For more information, visit ncclaguna.org.

Twitter: @BradleyZint

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