Taking Lessons From Rosie O'Donnell

Can churches learn from popular daytime television host Rosie O'Donnell?

Yes, particularly when it comes to creating community, making charity fun and paying attention to children and senior citizens, says Laura Simmons, a doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Simmons said that the actress and TV talk show host helps create a sense of community by handing out small cakes to her audiences sitting in the studio or waiting in line before her shows.

"Breaking bread together, even if it's chocolate cakes shared on a sidewalk, is a bonding experience," Simmons said in a paper she will give Sunday in Claremont at the joint regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. The scholars are meeting Sunday through Tuesday.

Although Oprah Winfrey has slimmed down after years of diets, NBC's O'Donnell is one of the few "celebrities to embrace her weight" even as she struggles with it, said the seminarian.

Recently, O'Donnell raised money for breast cancer research by securing a large matching grant from Warner Bros., then inviting her audience "to make them pay up," Simmons said. She also used a running gag on the show to raise half a million dollars for her own "For All Kids" foundation, while making donations to other charities, according to Simmons.

Although perky youngsters and elderly achievers have been frequent guests of hosts Johnny Carson and Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show," Simmons noted that O'Donnell "actively recruited children and seniors with interesting talents" this season.

"[These are] two communities which are often marginalized in the church," Simmons said. As for drawing lessons from daytime TV, Simmons cited Fuller President Richard Mouw and faculty member William Dyrness, who both "emphasize the importance of listening to the culture and rituals by which people communicate their values and beliefs."

ST. PATRICK'S DAY

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Looking ahead to Tuesday, two Orange County groups plan celebrations of faith, music and Irish merrymaking.

* An "evening of Irish spirituality" is planned today at the St. Joseph Center Auditorium, 434 S. Batavia St., Orange, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sister Margaret Scharf, musician and vocalist, Dennis and Paula Doyle with songs and stories, plus Irish dancers are featured. $20 at the door.

* The ninth annual St. Patrick's Family Festival run by the Brothers of St. Patrick, a worldwide missionary organization, will open Sunday with an Irish breakfast, starting at 7:30 a.m., and a Mass at 11 a.m., at the order's grounds at 7820 Bolsa Ave., Midway City. The festival begins after the Mass. $7 at the gate.

* On Wednesday night, a dramatic musical, "The Passion of St. Patrick," written by television producer Greg Perkins, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, 16221 Mulholland Drive. Free. (818) 788-4200.

CORRECTION

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The Sheraton Universal Hotel at Universal City is the correct site for the sixth annual Movieguide Awards on Wednesday night. (805) 383-2000.

DATES

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Jetsun Pema, younger sister of the Dalai Lama, will speak Sunday in Westwood about her life in exile in India. Pema's autobiography, "Tibet: My Story" was recently published and she acted in the film "Seven Years in Tibet." Los Angeles Friends of Tibet, which is sponsoring the 6:30 p.m. talk at Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd., is asking donations of $15 to benefit the Tibet Fund. (310) 289-4654.

* Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who walked on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission, will speak on "A New Cosmological Model--A Contemporary Look at Reality" on Sunday at the Philosophical Research Society, 3910 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles. Founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Mitchell will speak at 11 a.m., then lead a 90-minute workshop at 2 p.m. Donations of $10 and $15, respectively. (213) 663-2167.

* Purim carnivals, celebrating the happiest Jewish holiday of the year, will continue Sunday at many synagogues, including Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana (10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.), Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City (9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Temple Beth Ohr, 15721 Rosecrans Ave., La Mirada (10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.).

* Alan Andrews, newly installed president of the Navigators, an evangelical ministry, will speak at 10 a.m. Sunday at Grace Cambodian Church, 3590 Elm Ave., Long Beach. The Navigators began in Long Beach 60 years ago and now have 3,000 staff members in 105 countries. (310) 831-9721.

CONFERENCES

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Author Neale Donald Walsch, whose "Conversations With God" books are religious bestsellers, will be among the speakers at a four-day inspirational conference opening Thursday at the Westin Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. The event, hosted by the Rev. Michael Beckwith and his Agape International Center of Truth, will include an award to Della Reese, co-star of CBS' "Touched by an Angel," next Saturday. $249 registration. (310) 829-9173.

* More than 70 rabbis in the nationwide Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the relatively small "fourth branch" of Judaism (in addition to the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox wings), will open the group's first national convention in Los Angeles on Sunday at the Marina Beach Marriott Hotel in Marina del Rey. The rabbinical convention ends Wednesday. Also, a regional conference of Reconstructionist Jews from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday will hear, among others, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben describe "the lessons learned" from construction of the $7-million Kehillat Israel Synagogue in Pacific Palisades. (213) 933-7491.

* Biola University's 69th annual student-run Missions Conference will open at the La Mirada campus Wednesday for three days of seminars and talks. More than 75 mission organizations were expected to set up booths. Free. (562) 903-4881.

MUSIC

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The Westwood Presbyterian Church choir will perform Haydn's "The Creation" with full orchestra at 4 p.m. Sunday at the church, 10822 Wilshire Blvd. $10. (310) 474-4535.

* A musical, "The Song of Mark," based on the biblical Gospel, will be performed at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, 435 Berkeley Ave., Claremont, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and next Saturday. $10. (909) 626-3596.

* Concert pianist Sam Rotman will perform at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Santa Monica, 1420 Yale St., at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Free. (310) 828-7608.

* The music of Vivaldi, Grieg and Gershwin will be performed by the chamber orchestra at St. Matthew Episcopal Church, 1031 Bienveneda Ave., Pacific Palisades, 8:15 p.m. Friday. $12. (310) 573-7787.

* More than 26 children from nine San Gabriel Valley churches will sing in concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at Lake Avenue Church, 393 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, closing a two-day choral festival.

FINALLY

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Two Los Angeles-area women have been certified to officiate at holiday rites, weddings and other events for Jews who want the ceremonies without religious trappings.

Susan Lerner and Helen Bussell will be invested as leaders by Hershl Hartman, educational director of the Sholem Community Organization, on March 28 at Friendship Auditorium, near Griffith Park at 3201 Riverside Drive. The ceremony will be part of the Sholem community's demonstration Passover Seder. (818) 760-6625.

Lerner is an attorney and a past co-chairwoman of Sholem, and Bussell is a former professor at Los Angeles City College and past president of the Society for Humanistic Judaism's Los Angeles chapter.

The two trained at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills, Mich., and were certified late last year.

PEOPLE

Frederick Swann, organist and music director at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove for 16 years, will become organist in residence at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles in September.

One of America's best-known church organists, Swann will continue his concert tours, as well as make recordings with First Church's organs, said Thomas Somerville, minister of music at the cathedral-like church in the Westlake district.

When he succeeds Lloyd Holzgraf, who retired Jan. 1, Swann will have been associated with three of the largest church organs in America--starting at the famous Riverside Church in New York City in 1957.

The Rev. Charles Manske, former president of what is now Concordia University at Irvine (previously Christ College Irvine), has retired from the faculty. Manske, a former Lutheran chaplain at USC, was president of Christ College--founded by members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod--its first three years, 1976-79. He then turned to teaching full time and later directed graduate studies.

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