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Baptists Give $6.6 Million to Programs

Paced by a large Orange County church, Southern Baptists in California last year gave an all-time high of $6.61 million to their mission programs in the state, nation and overseas.

The 1997 total was more than 5% higher than donations for the previous year, according to a spokesman at the Fresno headquarters of the largest Protestant denomination in California.

Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, whose membership is about 9,000, was the top-giving Southern Baptist congregation in the state with $393,185. The church has dramatically increased its donations to the so-called Cooperative Program after giving nearly $238,000 in 1996 and $136,000 the year before.

“We started about 15 Spanish-speaking churches in the Los Angeles Basin about three years ago, and we’ve been putting money into supporting them,” Senior Pastor Rick Warren said. “As they’ve become more self-supporting, we’ve turned around and put more money into the denomination’s programs.”

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Another sharp rise in contributions came from Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, a congregation formed from the merger three years ago of a Southern Baptist church and an independent Christian congregation. Shepherd of the Hills was not listed among the top 50 contributing churches statewide in either 1995 or 1996. But the church ranked 10th for 1997 with donations of more than $62,000.

Southern Baptists in California have more than 450,000 members in 1,680 congregations. More than 170 churches were started in the state last year--which, combined with increased giving, made 1997 “a banner year,” said Fermin A. Whittaker, executive director at the state headquarters.

Other top contributors to the Cooperative Program--71% of which stays in the state and 29% goes to missions, seminaries and other Southern Baptist institutions--were Immanuel Baptist Church in the San Bernardino suburb of Highland ($280,317); First Chinese Baptist Church in Los Angeles’ Chinatown ($144,030) and Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, which sits across the street from the denomination’s California Baptist College ($125,850).

BOOKS

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Faith and coping after a sudden crisis hits was explored by Southern California writers of two books to be published next month. They are:

* “Baptism by Fire” (Bantam), by Heather Choate Davis of Mar Vista, who said she found faith as her baby daughter clung to life over six weeks.

* “When Life Hurts, a Book of Hope” (HarperSanFrancisco), by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at the University of San Diego. He writes about how he and his wife recovered from losses in the devastating 1966 Harmony Grove fire in San Diego.

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DATES

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Baptist minister and social activist who has been publicly supportive of the Clinton family during recent charges of sexual impropriety against the president, will speak Sunday at an Episcopal parish and a synagogue. Jackson is expected to talk about affirmative action, worker and immigrant rights, and other issues while preaching at the 11:15 a.m. service at All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, and at a 4 p.m. community forum at Kol Tikvah Synagogue, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

* Noted Zen Buddhist scholar Masao Abe, professor emeritus at Nara University of Education in Japan and a frequent visiting professor at U.S. universities, will give three free lectures in coming weeks at Cal State Northridge. Abe’s first talk, at noon next Saturday, will compare affinities and distinctions between Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha. Reservations are required for that talk and those on Feb. 14 and March 7. (818) 677-CSUN.

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* Msgr. Royale Vadakin and Rabbi Alfred Wolf will be honored tonight for their pioneering organizing efforts for Los Angeles harmony at a dinner at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles. Tunisian scholar Abdelfattah Amor, who is on a U.S. study tour of inter-religious relations, will be the speaker. (213) 383-3443.

* The use of electronic media by churches will be discussed Thursday at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Travis Auditorium in a daylong conference led by the Rev. Michael Slaughter, a United Methodist pastor in suburban Dayton, Ohio, whose small congregation grew to 3,500. (800) 804-0777, Ext. 26.

* The women characters in Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” will be examined in a course taught by Anita Caspary over five Tuesday nights, starting next week, at the Immaculate Heart College Center, 425 Shatto Place, Suite 401, Los Angeles. (213) 386-3116.

* “Take This Bread--a Mass in Our Time,” a contemporary musical work written by Galt MacDermot, the composer of the classic rock musical “Hair,” will be performed Sunday at two churches in Orange County. An 80-voice chorus from both churches will perform the work at 4 p.m. at Garden Grove United Methodist Church, 12741 Main St., and at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Costa Mesa, 420 W. 19th St. Donation $4. (714) 548-7727.

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FINALLY

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The Movable Minyan, which calls itself the only independent Jewish lay-led prayer group in Los Angeles, will observe its 10th anniversary Sunday while literally on the move--inside a city landmark, Angels Flight.

A minyan is a group of at least 10 Jews required to hold a prayer service. In its early years, the group moved from home to home for meetings. Now, with about 40 members, the Movable Minyan meets at the Westside Jewish Community Center for a monthly Sabbath dinner and two prayers services a month (310) 285-3317.

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The anniversary called for something different, said President Stuart Lutz of Culver City. “We liked the imagery of ‘taking flight’ and ‘reaching for great heights,’ ” said Lutz, a store owner.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, members will board the funicular at its lower end. As the conveyance ascends the steep incline up Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, the group will make aliyah, which in Hebrew means “going up” and is a prayer chanted before the Torah is read. As they approach the top of the hill, members will recite the shema, the central prayer of Judaism.

Notices may be mailed for consideration to Southern California File, c/o John Dart, L.A. Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311, faxed to Religion desk at (818) 772-3385 or e-mailed to john.dart@latimes.com

Items should arrive two to three weeks before the event, except for spot news, and should include pertinent details about the people and organizations with address, phone number, date and time.

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PEOPLE

Lew Wasserman, chairman emeritus of Universal Studios, will be the first non-Catholic to receive the annual Cardinal’s Award next Saturday. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony will recognize six honorees for their generosity and service at a dinner in the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Universal was criticized by evangelical and Catholic leaders in 1988 for its planned release of director Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

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But Wasserman was described in the awards announcement as “a longtime friend of the archdiocese of Los Angeles,” as a former trustee of the archdiocese’s Education Foundation and host of the September 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to Universal City to address the entertainment industry.

Indeed, Mahony’s criticism of “Last Temptation” was relatively mild during the 1988 brouhaha. He noted that the Universal film received a “morally offensive” rating from the Catholic Church but that the Los Angeles prelate also criticized what he said were anti-Semitic protests directed in part at Wasserman. Mahony then praised Wasserman, who was also chairman of Universal’s parent company, MCA Inc., as “a man of the highest integrity.”

On Feb. 7, Wasserman will be given the Cardinal’s Award along with Albert Centofante of St. Lawrence Martyr parish, Redondo Beach; Veronica Dysart of St. Elizabeth, Van Nuys; Marie Poyer of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Encino, and Rob Smith of St. Bede the Venerable, La Canada Flintridge. Reservations (213) 637-7636.

In a different event this month, Mahony conveyed papal honors on non-Catholics Rupert Murdoch, Bob Hope and Roy Disney for their philanthropy. The three were among 67 people inducted Jan. 11 by the Los Angeles cardinal as knights and dames of St. Gregory the Great.

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