SPECIAL REPORT: Putting Down Roots : The Times Poll : Religion Runs Full Gamut in North County

The most common type of community activity that North County residents participate in is church-related. Although 52% said they don't get involved in any community activities, 20% said that they participate in church activities. --The Times Poll

Calvary Chapel/North Coast isn't a typical church, at least not in the old-fashioned American sense.

There is no steeple with bell, there is no pipe organ and vaulted altar. Yet the parking lot at the Encinitas shopping center the church calls home begins to fill early Sunday morning. By 10:30, cars are lined up down Vulcan Avenue. When Pastor Ed Smith begins services, most seats are taken and dozens of worshipers stand outside listening to the music, Scriptures and the sermon from a muted speaker system.

With its New Age music and surfer-to-senior citizen congregation, Calvary Chapel seems very different from other houses of worship, and in some ways it is. But Pastor Ed and his parish share many traits with other North County spiritual centers.

Diversity, an enthusiastic ecumenical spirit, a commitment to community and family life and, finally, a critical scarcity of meeting space are the ties that bind religious life here.

From the 193-year-old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside to the new Mormon Temple arising beside Interstate 5 near La Jolla, North County specializes in both old and new, bold and traditional.

Some of North County's unique centers of worship have been here for decades. Most beach lovers are familiar with the graceful white buildings of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. The rest of the country may have discovered Eastern religions in the 1960s, but the Self-Realization Fellowship has been in Encinitas since 1936.

The international headquarters of the mystical Christian Rosicrucian Society sits on a hillside west of the Mission San Luis Rey, virtually in the center of Oceanside. Visitors are welcome to the 40-acre campus, an oasis of peace in a hectic city setting. The Rosicrucians have called this hilltop home since 1911.

Even within specific faiths, the nuances are many.

Alexander Federoff, for example is priest at St. John of Damascus in Poway, part of the Orthodox Church in America.

This church has its roots in Russian Orthodoxy, but serves Orthodox Christians of Greek, Syrian, Serbian and all ethnic backgrounds. Of the same fundamental faith but different administration is Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, the pristine white building with the glittering gold dome that overlooks the San Elijo Lagoon south of Encinitas. Motorists on I-5 sometimes glimpse the shape of the cross that appears when the setting sun glints off the dome at a certain angle.

There are six stakes with 18 chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or Mormon), but also several Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) churches. The RLDS has headquarters in Missouri and is headed by lineal descendants of founder Joseph Smith.

Although some neighborhoods and individuals have been less than kind to new or unfamiliar religions, North County church leaders and members seem to welcome those who are different and to accept the differences.

"Last year, when the San Dieguito Interfaith Council held its annual Thanksgiving Service at Temple Solel in Encinitas, more than 1,000 people of all faiths attended," according to Deacon Ed Grass, who heads the council. "The benediction was given by Rabbi Bohm and a German woman Lutheran minister."

Churches in North County offer many services besides providing a spiritual home.

Perhaps because North County areas grew, on an average, more than 58% in the past decade, people look to the churches to fill many needs. Classes in the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu are sponsored by and taught at the Unity Christ Church in Carlsbad. Congregation Beth Am in Solana Beach has offered medical hypnosis classes, and a dozen churches open their halls for musical presentations and concerts.

Both independently and through Pastor Rafael Martinez's North County Chaplaincy, local churches strive to respond to some of the newest and neediest residents, the migrant workers.

The North County Chaplaincy is a ecumenically supported social service agency. Each Saturday, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church offers Mass, breakfast, medical and legal counseling for farm workers in the fields at Black Mountain in Rancho Los Penasquitos.

In an area where the average house price would buy an Arkansas farm, the cost of North County real estate has prevented many religious groups from having homes of their own.

Before the St. John of Damascus church began its 10- to 12-year building program, said Father Federoff, "we borrowed, rented and met in many places."

The Chalice Unitarian Universalist Church meets at the Poway Theater, the La Costa Community Church gathers at Dieguito Junior high School and has its offices in a business park.

The Heritage Baptist Church worships at the San Dieguito Boys and Girls Club, and the Carlsbad Religious Science Church meets at Pea Soup Anderson's. The Regina Caeli Chapel, a Roman Catholic group, holds mass at the Church of Religious Science in Vista, and Methodists use the chapel at Mission San Luis Rey for an 11 a.m. Sunday service.

These offbeat sanctuaries call for other adjustments as well. Calvary Chapel/North Coast, because of its small mall setting, does its baptisms at the Encinitas YMCA pool. "At least the pool is heated," Pastor Smith told his members.

Although some new churches are being built in North County, the shortage of facilities is dire, even at established locations.

"What we really need is a new church," said Father Michel Gagnon of Mission San Luis Rey. Eleven masses are said each weekend at the mission, using the old Mission itself, an auditorium in a former girl's school and the tennis court.

There is enough land at the mission, Father Michel noted, but a proper building would cost $4 million to $5 million. The task is complicated by the idea that many people see San Luis Rey as a mission. They forget that it is an active church, servicing Camp Pendleton Marine families, migrant workers and other Catholics in the area.

There is neither an official count of churches in North County, nor any reliable tallies of church attendance in the area. An informal census shows there are well over 150 houses of worship representing dozens of faiths. Some faiths convene in private homes, at the beach or in parks, and there is no public record of their existence.

Although it isn't possible to review even a small number of the flocks that meet in North County, here is a sampling:

Calvary Chapel/North Coast

Sometimes called "the surfer church," this beach community congregation is a lively reflection of North County culture.

The approximately 1,500 interdenominational congregation is made up of a scattering of racial and ethnic backgrounds, though most are young and tanned. Members dress casually in everything from bright dresses and high-heeled shoes to bold patterned shorts. Only the pastor, it seems, wears a suit and tie.

The live, rhythmical New Age music soothes even the babies, of which there are many. The sanctuary is done up in contemporary gray, pink and silver; folding chairs serve as pews. There are no hymnals or Bibles, rather the musical score and Scriptures are shone on the walls by overhead projectors.

This is an enterprising congregation with children's choir, youth groups, and adult activities every day of the week. How contemporary is this church? It lists its fax number in the bulletin.

Services: 7, 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 and 6 p.m. Sundays. 511 S . Vulcan Ave., Encinitas. Call 436-8377 Temple Solel

This Reform Jewish congregation is affectionately called a "yuppy" synagogue by one member. Though there is a strong core group from every age, the membership tends to be young, friendly and family-oriented. Temple Solel's spiritual leader, Rabbi Lenore Bohm, is one of the few women rabbis with her own congregation.

The synagogue offers Hebrew and religious classes, life-cycle celebrations and special ceremonies for Jewish holidays. Expectant parents may be interested in the Jewish variation of childbirth preparation classes called l'Mazeltov.

Services: Times and days of services vary. For additional information, call 436-0654. Regina Caeli Chapel

After Vatican II allowed masses to be said in language other than Latin, a group of traditional Catholics in North County banded together to preserve the traditional service. About 100 people gather each Sunday to hear the ancient Tridentine Latin Mass, led by a priest from the Society of St. Pius X. The priest commutes each week from Orange County to conduct the mass.

Until recently when the local Diocese began a Tridentine Mass in San Diego, this was the only Latin Mass in the county. This congregation would like to establish its own church, but so far has been unable to find a suitable location.

Services: 6:45 a.m. each Sunday at the Church of Religious Science, 560 S. Melrose Drive, Vista, 729-2381. St. Leo's

This Catholic church, set in the Eden Gardens area of Solana Beach, was built by hand by the local Latino residents.

The focal point of the austere sanctuary is a 300-year-old cross brought from Mexico that stands behind the altar. The church is a mission of St. James, also in Solana Beach.

"At the 10:30 Spanish Mass, the place is absolutely full. People are standing inside and out. We truly don't know how many attend," said Deacon Al Grass. Masses are said in English and Spanish, and the church holds a morning and afternoon Head Start program for preschool children.

Services: English-language Mass at 9 a.m., Spanish - language Mass at 10:30 Sunday mornings. Daily Masses at 8:30 a.m. 936 Genevieve St., Solana Beach, 481-6788. Vista Buddhist Temple

The Rev. A. Arthur Takemoto explains that, because Vista means "view" in Spanish, the word has been incorporated into the Japanese name for North County's only Buddhist temple. The name, Sho Ken Ji literally means "right view temple." Another translation might be "temple of true understanding."

Anyone may attend services. An entrancing annual event is the O'bon festival, held each August. A traditional memorial to honor the dead, the joyous festival includes Japanese folk dancing, huge Taiko drums, and a bazaar of locally grown fruit, vegetables, flowers and other Japanese items.

Services: 9:30 a.m. Sunday. 150 Cedar Road, Vista, 941-8800. Non-English Services

Here are a few of the non-English language services offered:

* Solano Beach Presbyterian Church offers interpretations for the deaf at its 9:30 a.m. Sunday service.

* The Broadway Baptist Church of Escondido has English, Korean and Spanish language services.

* Many Catholic churches, including Mission San Luis Rey, St. John's in Encinitas and St. Leo in Solana Beach hold Masses in Spanish.

* Mission San Luis Rey also holds a Tagalog Mass for Filipino parishioners.

Radio broadcast services

KPRZ: 1210 AM--K-Praise is San Diego County's only full-time, commercial Christian station. Broadcasting from San Marcos, it carries religious music, news and features. Several sermons are broadcast on Sunday.

KSPA: 92.1 FM--Most of the time this station broadcasts nostalgia music. On Sundays, its format becomes religious. Music and sermons.

KMLO: 107 FM--Normally a light, adult music station. Christian music Sunday from 6 a.m. until 2:30, two sermons, 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.

KECR: 93.3 FM--This station broadcasts from El Cajon, but carries Sunday morning sermons from North County churches. At 11 a.m., for example, the service from the Emmanuel Faith Community Church of Escondido can be heard.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World