La Jolla Presbyterian Church: Making the community a better place

• La Jolla’s Faith Communities:

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new bi-monthly La Jolla Light series examining the various faith communities in our town and the people within them. Reporter Linda Hutchison and photographer Milan Kovacevic will take us into the familiar buildings for insight on what goes on inside … and why.

La Jolla Presbyterian Church has expanded and evolved considerably since its humble beginnings in 1905, when 10 worshippers gathered in a tent on Eads Avenue. Now, with a five-building campus filling the block at Draper and Kline, the church has close to 1,500 members, placing it among the top 100 Presbyterian churches in the country.

At the heart of the church, however, its vision remains the same – to value relationships with God and one another and to preach the gospel and share Christ, according to Rev. Dr. Paul Cunningham, pastor and head of staff.

"We also have four core values that help inform us, and that we use as guidelines for living and for choosing our programs," Rev. Cunningham explained. The values are: Nurturing (being committed to nurturing relationships and sharing the hope of Christ); Equipping (being equipped to share this hope by offering a place to worship, learn/study and serve); Going (going into the world to make disciples and make a difference); and Celebrating (celebrating the movement of God whether in worship or special occasions).

Using these values as guidelines, the church has grown to benefit both members and non-members with a full, vibrant lineup of services, programs and events.

"Our role is helping make our community a better place," said Rev. Cunningham. "What I find impressive is that there are 1,000 people here on Sunday, but 800 during the week for both church and non-church groups." Extending hospitality to groups such as Boy Scouts, Kiwanis and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is part of being a good neighbor, according to Cunningham.

"God has blessed us with considerable resources and they are well used," added Jim Sedgwick, the church's communications director. "That is a bigger blessing to the community."

"We are very busy," he added, sharing a copy of a full monthly calendar with several meetings and events scheduled each day.

In addition to three Sunday worship services a week, the church offers several Sunday school classes for children, a community, multi-denominational Bible study meeting, support and study groups for members of all ages, a pre-school with 56 children, exercise and ESL classes, a vacation Bible school serving 175 children, weddings, funerals and baptisms, and many musical concerts.

Musical groups include an adult choir of 60 members, youth and children's choir, a brass orchestra with 15 members, a full orchestra with 25 members, a handbell choir and a worship band. The church also offers a popular, ongoing concert series free to the community.

These programs all help the church maintain and grow, according to Rev. Cunningham, despite a worldwide decline in church membership. "We also put a lot of focus on young members, ages 25-45, the fastest growing group," he said.

In keeping with the church's core value of Going, it includes many mission ministries, both in countries around the world and locally. Working with partners, the church's local missions include helping refugees and immigrants, the homeless, inner-city youth and prisoners. "We are all missionaries. Our neighborhood is our mission field," said Cunningham.

Originally from Fresno, Cunningham arrived in La Jolla in 2006 after spending 14 years as a pastor in Texas. He and his wife, Shannon, have a daughter at La Jolla High School and a son at Muirlands Middle School. He said he did not set out to become a pastor, earning a degree in finance with plans to become a CPA, "but God moved my heart along," he said.

Active in church work and youth ministry, he was encouraged by his pastor to follow his heart and earned his doctorate in divinity at Princeton. Not that his undergraduate degree is wasted. "Understanding finance has been a blessing," he said. Cunningham oversees a staff of 51 full- and part-time employees, including five pastors.

The church recently started a new fundraising campaign to pay for a $3 million renovation. This will include a redesigned sanctuary, with more room in the chancel for musical performances; completely remodeled children's classrooms and increased accessibility for those with wheelchair and strollers, which will include a ramp on Draper Avenue; an elevator to the children's classrooms on the second floor of the children's wing; and a bridge/lift from the administration building to the second floor of the SunHouse youth building. "We expect to be completed in October 2015 in time for our 110th birthday," said Sedgwick.

The upcoming renovation is one of several the church has undergone since its founding. Its first building, known as the Little Brown Church, was built in 1906 and moved to Eads and Kline in 1912. It was followed by the original sanctuary in 1928, the chapel and surrounding rooms in 1939, the SunHouse youth room in 1951, the enlarged sanctuary and first phase of the Christian education building in 1957, the completion of the education building in 1965, and the Life Center and Administration Building in 2004.

Currently the church is planning its Thanksgiving and Christmas events, including a toy drive for military families and cookie decorating after the La Jolla Christmas Parade on Dec. 7. Those interested can follow the camel from the parade to the church.

— About La Jolla Presbyterian Church

Address: 7715 Draper Ave., La Jolla

Phone: (858) 454-0713

Online: www.ljpres.org

Year established: 1905

Members: 1,450

Average Sunday Attendance: 950

Worship Services provided: Sunday Services Traditional, 8:45 and 11 a.m. in the Sanctuary; Contemporary 10 a.m. in Fellowship Hall; streaming live online and archived on a podcast.

Community Programs: Monthly welcome lunches; educational classes for adults and children; community multi-denominational Bible study; nursery school and pre-school; growth groups; ministries for men, women, children, seniors and married couples; mission trips; caring ministry for those in need; choral and orchestra groups; free concert series.

Leadership: Rev. Dr. Paul Cunningham, head of staff/pastor

Rev. Stan Beard, pastor of seniors ministries

Rev. Daryl Bryant, pastor of administration

Rev. Craig Deane, pastor of community life

Rev. Jeff Pearson, pastor of caring ministries

Rev. Mike Sedgwick, pastor of youth and children

— La Jolla’s Faith Communities series: Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church will be featured in the Nov. 20, 2014 issue of La Jolla Light

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