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‘FaithDome'--Jesus’ Grand-Slam Homer : $9-Million Geodesic Dome Draws 8,100 to First Service

Times Religion Writer

Carrying a wooden shepherd’s staff and followed by a band playing “It’s Time to Rejoice,” Pastor Fred Price led 8,100 congregants of his Crenshaw Christian Center into their new, $9-million church Sunday morning and exclaimed:

“Hallelujah! Jesus just hit a grand-slam home run! Oooh, you look good!”

A geodesic dome in South-Central Los Angeles covers what is now the most spacious church sanctuary in the country--capable of putting 10,145 people into theater-style seats. The church, with 16,000 members the largest in Los Angeles, received city approval for occupancy only last week.

Old Pepperdine Site

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The building’s opening fulfills a plan announced by Price eight years ago when the predominantly black congregation bought the original Pepperdine University campus for $14 million.

To suggestions by outsiders that the money should have been used to feed the poor, Price told churchgoers from the carpeted center platform serving as his pulpit:

“That’s the same razzmatazz our parents used to give us to eat our vegetables.” People elsewhere still starve even if you eat your vegetables, he noted.

The U.S. government spends billions on destructive weapons, Price then reminded congregants. In a way, he said, the large church-in-the-round is “a Star Wars program for the Lord . . . a Stealth bomber for Jesus!

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“And instead of killing folk, we’re going to show them how to get life, and life more abundantly,” he said.

After the inaugural two-hour service, church member Darlene Thomas echoed the pastor’s reasoning for why the building was a good use of money. “You can feed the people, but is that getting to the core of the problem?” she asked.

The church and its pastor teach self-esteem and faith, she explained, crediting those qualities for her gaining ownership of two licensed day-care centers since she came to the church nine years ago.

Fellow member Willie Naulls, a former UCLA and New York Knicks basketball player, called the FaithDome’s opening as the “physical manifestation of the spiritual (truth) that God’s word is true.” Naulls predicted in an interview that it won’t be long before Price, who had been conducting three services each Sunday in a smaller auditorium, will be forced to hold two services with 10,000 people under the dome for each.

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Price, 57, whose services are videotaped for a weekly nationwide television show, is an independent clergyman in the emotionally charged Pentecostal movement, but his ministerial style emphasizes Bible teaching on responsible living more than ecstatic displays of healing and speaking in tongues.

On Sunday, however, Price didn’t hesitate to lead a “JESUS” cheer popular at many evangelical and Pentecostal gatherings:

“Give me a ‘J”’ Price implored.

“J!” the crowd yelled back, and so on.

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Despite the arena-like dimensions of the building, the church feels more like a comfortable conference room because of an excellent sound system and an array of overhead lights obscuring the view of the aluminum, cross-hatched ceiling.

“This place is breath-taking,” said John W. Smith of Hawthorne.

“I’ve never liked geometric structures, but this is really beautiful,” said Darlene McRae, a congregant from Whittier.

“This is the end of one era and the beginning of another,” Price declared at the service. Several old Pepperdine buildings, a bit in disrepair, will be renovated on the 28-acre campus facing Vermont Avenue.

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