By Neil Earle
A day for prayer?
There are at least twenty Christian support groups for believers in the movie and film industry out of what is still the heart of it all – Hollywood, California.
Earlier this month two of us from New Covenant Fellowship attended a prayer and fellowship workshop organized by Karen Covell, a television producer and longtime Christian who coordinates the Hollywood Prayer Network. This all-day session was hosted by the rather famous Hollywood Presbyterian Church where many people in the “industry” have attended church across the decades.
“Perhaps it’s time to view Hollywood as more like Nineveh and less like Sodom,” Karen says, alluding to the Biblical prophet who ran away rather than take God’s message of repentance to a city most felt was beyond hope.
“Entertainment is probably the most morally depraved business in the world,” adds Karen’s sometime colleague, Southern Baptist Victorya Rogers who co-wrote How To Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out. “Yet it’s full of really wonderful people who are just lost.”
That’s right. Most of the people I saw at the prayer watch were young girls who looked like they could have just got off the bus from Saginaw or Seattle looking for a big break. Or so I imagined. The Network was ready for them with open arms.
Here’s the deal: What most people don’t know about Hollywood is that the majority of people in the movie industry are not multi-million dollar actors with plush mansions high in the hills. Most work in ancillary but vital support roles such as lighting, carpentry (set-building is huge!), styling and wardrobe, accounting, legal ventures, grips, understudies, computer animation, etc. etc. Just look at the number of people listed in the credits next time you’re at your local cinema-plex. Let it sink in how many quite normal folks go to work in tinsel-town. My first landlord in Los Angeles was a cameraman on the set of “Cheers” who was as straight-arrow a guy as you’d want to meet. Most of those good folks have children and many of them attend churches with youth outreach and teen activities aplenty, just like congregations in Saginaw and Seattle.
Karen and her husband Jim see Hollywood as a prime mission field. Jim, a composer and producer, has a particularly upbeat perspective. “It’s not an accident that Los Angeles is called the city of the angels. Angels are messengers, and this city sends out messages every day all over the world. If you gave me a choice: take five million dollars to elect a senator who’s going to be in office for six years or take five million dollars to bring a studio head to Christ who’s going to influence the world for a lot of years. Well, you tell me where you want to put your money.”
Again, as in all Christian mission, a key word is intentionality. You have to show by your specific actions that you really are committed to outreach.
The day we were there we walked into the Henrietta Mears Theater, itself named after a noted LA Sunday School teacher who used drama to liven up her lessons and reach out to the Hollywood faithful and their children. A plaque from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans is near the entrance – noted attendees at “Hollywood Pres” one would surmise. Scattered across the elegant hall were various “stations” for private prayer, group prayer, group discussion, Bible readings as well as a modest Communion table near the main entrance. The atmosphere was subdued, low-key, inter-denominational and inviting. We were all encouraged by Scriptures scattered in the open auditorium to “ascend to the hill of the Lord with clean hands and hearts.”
Other stations had space for writing personal mottos or words of encouragement. There was a poster board where copies of “Entertainment Weekly” magazine allowed you to cut out pictures of celebs you were concerned about. Some of them posted there were Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, and Stephen Speilberg. Another table held a small rock display allowing you to write a Hollywood actor's name on it for continuing prayer. I wrote “Warren Beatty” because he strikes me as a creative brainy guy who would be a real dynamo if he even partly turned around.
What’s that you say? It can’t happen? Ever heard of a dangerous dude named Saul of Tarsus?
What was particularly helpful was a slim attractive brochure put out by praymag.com titled “21 Redemptive Prayers for Hollywood.” Some of the suggested litany included:
This is really getting down to the nitty gritty. But Bob Briner writes boldly in his book, Roaring Lambs: “Christians need to be in Hollywood, working alongside the men and women who are producing movies that twenty million people see each week. What a mission field.”
Not just Hollywood Presbyterian but also BIOLA and Fuller Seminary have for a few years now added to their official outreach structures the means to build bridges to Christians trying to shape Hollywood for the good. The annual “City of Angels Film Festival” is one result. The Hollywood Prayer Network unifies Christians around the world via a monthly e-mail network which reaches more than 1000 faithful prayer warriors who believe Hollywood needs God’s mercy. Actress Nancy Stafford, veteran of “Matlock,” “St. Elsewhere” and “The Doctors” adds: “I think God is calling chosen people to the places that can deeply and radically impact our culture. As Hollywood goes, so goes the world. Hollywood is not off limits for Christians.”
There’s more truth here than meets the eye. Even people who intentionally boycott movies are admitting that Hollywood matters a great deal. Still, these same people probably wouldn’t miss the annual rerunning of “Wizard of Oz” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
What did I write on the personal memento table?
“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” This is a slogan from a Catholic group called The Christophers who had a TV show way back there in the 1950s. It left an impression as all media does. Yep, Hollywood matters. It matters a great deal.