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Churchgoers Keep Faith After Quake Shuts Old Building

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Times Staff Writer

The congregation filed out of the sanctuary into the early afternoon light Sunday as the organist and pianist of the First Church of Religious Science in Fullerton thumped out a brisk-paced version of “High Hopes.”

And that is what the church’s members and leaders had--high hopes that Sunday’s service would not be the last public gathering in the earthquake-damaged 78-year-old building, reputedly the oldest church still standing in north Orange County.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 21, 1987 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 21, 1987 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of a reporting error, a story in The Times on Monday incorrectly stated that Fullerton officials had ordered the First Church of Religious Science closed because of earthquake damage. In fact, it was closed on the recommendation of a structural engineer hired by the church.

The red brick church at Pomona and Amerige avenues, which was built between 1907 and 1909, suffered major structural damage from the 6.1 quake of Oct. 1. Last week, four days before the congregation celebrated its 25th anniversary at the site, Fullerton officials ordered the church closed because the quake damage has made it unsafe.

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During an upbeat sermon Sunday that reflected the denomination’s philosophy of faith, the Rev. Marlene Oaks, pastor of the congregation since March, 1986, told the 180 people who filled the pews not to despair.

“We are not victims,” she said. “I do not know where we are going. But it is good.”

Oaks later told reporters that demolition is not being considered and that the church will start a drive to raise money to repair the damage. Church members have been asked to help plan the drive, she said.

To the untrained eye, the damage to the building is almost imperceptible. The church’s stunning stained-glassed windows, which were shipped from Europe during construction, were untouched by the quake, as was its rectangular turret above the main entrance. Inside its simply decorated, cream-colored sanctuary, the dark wood beams holding up its vaulted ceiling appeared strong.

The minister and others, however, pointed out deep cracks in the seams of some inside walls, and in places on the exterior, where bricks, and one of two chimneys had fallen away.

Oaks said the outer walls of the church, whose masonry is not reinforced, are pulling away from the sanctuary balcony. The building is held together by the kind of buttresses that were common at the turn of the century.

“Our engineer says we need between a quarter- and a half-million dollars” to repair the building, Oaks said. “We’ve never had to raise that kind of money, but we hope to get some help from the public.”

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Brought Up to Code

The church needed to be brought up to current earthquake code standards anyway, said Paul Bluto, president of the church’s board of directors. He said that work will be done as part of the quake damage repairs.

Oaks said church officials will meet Monday to discuss their options. Later in the week, they will apply, as a nonprofit business, for government disaster aid.

Kay Jackline, a worker at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief application center in La Habra, said that until the church’s application is received and reviewed, she could not say how much aid the church is eligible for.

“There are so many variables in the program, it’s just too hard to tell,” Jackline said. During this period of uncertainty over the church’s future, Oaks said, the congregation has accepted the invitation of Rabbi Haim Asa, to Sunday use of the Temple Beth Tik Vah at 1600 N. Acacia in Fullerton for at least six months. Other clergy also had offered the use of their facilities.

After Sunday’s services, there was a thread of sadness amid the optimism, as church members considered the damage and even the temporary loss of the use of the building.

“I’m still grieving. I guess I’m in the denial stage,” said Myra Kaplan, the church’s 67-year-old director of music.

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Said Patti Lamberth, 66, a 13-year-member of the congregation: “It’s very, very sad.”

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