Pastor Moody Says God Wills Church to Move to Chatsworth

Times Staff Writer

The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys says God has told him to lead his 10,000-member congregation to the "Promised Land" of the West San Fernando Valley in order to keep that area "from Satan's grip."

The Rev. Jess Moody, senior pastor of the church for 10 years, in a church newsletter dated Sept. 1 announced the plan to relocate to Chatsworth.

"It is God's will that our church move to an area of well over 700,000 souls, an area that has no great church to challenge them, win their children, save their families and keep the West Valley from Satan's grip," Moody, 61, said in his article.

The Southern Baptist church has opened escrow on 12.5 acres of property in the sprawling, affluent Monteria Estates neighborhood and hopes to have a new church there in three years, Moody said.

Jim Rives, executive associate pastor of the church, said many details are not complete because the proposed relocation is in its preliminary stages. The move hinges on the sale of the present church property at 14800 Sherman Way for at least $12.4 million, approval by the congregation and city approval for a church on the site, he said.

2nd Attempt to Relocate

This is the second time that Moody has called for relocation of the church, one of the largest in Los Angeles, to the West Valley. A proposed relocation seven or eight years ago collapsed because it lacked strong support from the congregation, Moody said.

This time, Moody said, he is confident the plan will be backed by the congregation, which has not yet scheduled a vote on the proposal.

Moody said the new church will include a sanctuary, an outdoor wedding chapel, a small lake and jogging paths. The existing church sanctuary seats about 2,000, Rives said.

The new church would be north of Devonshire Street along what is now the private extension of Winnetka Avenue. It would conform aesthetically to the "ranch style" of Monteria Estates and have a "homey look," Moody said.

Rives said the church has agreed to pay $2.5 million for the property now in escrow, which includes a 6,700-square-foot home and a guest house. The church also hopes to purchase an adjacent 10.5-acre property, he said.

Rives said the move is not prompted by a search for more affluent congregants or by any space problems at the existing church.

Moody said Wednesday that the relocation was inspired by a "spiritual impression" he got eight years ago while standing in his backyard, but that the move also is practical because the East Valley is well served by two other "super churches" about the size of his own, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley and the Church on the Way in Van Nuys.

The three huge churches "are bunched together, within two miles of each other, all serving the same area," Moody said. "There is another area where God wants us to serve Him."

"It is my personal perception that, years ago, God gave our pastor the vision to relocate to the West Valley," Rives said in his own article in the newsletter. "Our people did not respond. Now, He is giving us one more chance. How can we fail if we are being obedient to His will?"

Moody said he could understand if some members do not "catch the vision of God's beautiful plan" and do not want the church to move. But, he added:

"What a thrill, when you think about it, to be like the children of Israel, moving into the Promised Land."

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