La Jolla’s Faith Communities: Small but mighty, Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church thinks locally and acts globally
• LA JOLLA’S FAITH COMMUNITIES:
Editor’s Note: This is the 11th in a bi-monthly La Jolla Light series examining various faith communities in our town and the people within them. Reporter Linda Hutchison and photographer Milan Kovacevic take us into the familiar buildings for insight on what goes on inside … and why. Read previous installations at lajollalight.com/news/lifestyle/religion/
Located 800 feet above sea level — higher than any church in San Diego — Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church offers commanding views in all directions. During services, worshippers face the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross, less than 1,000 yards away. Beyond that and surrounding the church are the communities and hills of La Jolla and vistas all the way south across the bays into downtown San Diego.
Looking both outward and inward plays a pivotal role in the church’s mission. As Rev. John Moser, pastor of Mount Soledad explained, the church’s vision is to “help people experience life transforming relationships with Jesus Christ.” This vision is realized in three ways.
“We passionately and creatively invite, equip and send. We invite people into a relationship with ourselves through hospitality and with Jesus. We equip people with the tools of spiritual growth to grow in the places God has called them to flourish — in their families and their vocational work. And we send them into mission and ministry.”
For inviting and equipping members, the church offers a wide variety of worship services and internal ministries. Regular services are held Sundays at 10 a.m. During the Sunday service, the church provides nursery care for infants and children to age 3 and Sunday school for older children up to the fifth-grade level. The youth ministry also meets Sundays at 10 a.m. For those who enjoy additional Bible study, Rev. Moser leads a class before service on Sundays from 8:40 to 9:40 a.m. There is also a drop-in healing prayer session Sundays at 6 p.m.
There are social groups for members of all ages, including young adults, young families, women, men and seniors. “We are really committed to helping young families flourish,” said Rev. Moser.
The Young Families Fellowship held at the church on Tuesday nights includes a buffet dinner and gives parents a much-needed break, explained Rev. Moser. The evening also includes a children’s program and parenting classes for adults.
The Little Steps Preschool, which opened next to the church in 1996, currently educates more than 80 children, including infants.
The school is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. It welcomes children of all faiths but teaches from a distinctly Christian perspective, according to Rev. Moser, who enjoys spending time with the preschool children Wednesday mornings, singing songs and telling stories.
Mount Soledad’s third way of realizing its vision is sending its people to benefit the community in which they are called. Although Mount Soledad is a smaller church, with approximately 100 members, it has an extensive outreach, with a large, active group of missionary programs.
“We are very local and have a small church feel for good relationships, and yet we are also very global — sending missionaries to six countries,” Rev. Moser said.
The church’s many missions range from San Diego and Mexico to several countries around the world. In the past 50 years, the church has sent out more than 50 long-term missionaries and more than 13 percent of the church budget has been used to support them and mission agencies, according to Art Miley, a member since 1979 and author of “Under the Shadow of the Cross,” a history of Mount Soledad Presbyterian.
Through the Homes of Hope program, the church has built 60 homes in the Ensenada area of Baja California, Mexico, said Rev. Moser. All members of the community are welcome to join in. Another large non-profit organization — Plant with Purpose — got its start at Mount Soledad in 1984. Its mission is to help the rural poor around the world with community development, innovative agriculture and forestry, and micro-credit enterprise.
Compared to other churches and synagogues in La Jolla, Mount Soledad is on the newer side. The plan for the new Presbyterian Church was first announced in 1959 when La Jolla neighborhoods began to grow. The Los Angeles Presbytery purchased five-and-a-half acres at $49,500 for the proposed church at the corner of La Jolla Scenic Drive and Soledad Mountain Road.
The church’s first services were held in 1961 at the Hotel Del Charro in La Jolla Shores. When hotel guests objected to the early Sunday morning hymn singing, the congregation moved to the Pacific Beach Women’s Club across from Kate Sessions Park. In 1963, early members broke ground on the Mount Soledad property. They held their first service in the new church a few months later and in April 1964 — five years to the day from the first announcement — their formal dedication. In 2001, the original building was gutted and completely renovated.
Beginning Easter Sunday 2015, Mount Soledad linked up with “A.D. The Bible Continues,” an NBC television series airing at 9 p.m. Sundays. The church’s morning service will include a short film clip about that night’s episode. The series is especially important today, Rev. Moser believes, because 1) It portrays the message behind the early Christian movement of “love, non-violence and valuing people as creations of God” and 2) It re-enforces the need to stand for what you believe as a persecuted group — whether against the Romans in 33 A.D. or against ISIS in the Middle East today.
Rev. Moser took over the helm of the church in May of 2007. He was born in Arcadia, California where as a teenager; he was part of the youth ministry of the local Presbyterian Church. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English at UC Santa Barbara and a master’s of divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Since his ordination, he has served in several cities in California, including Diamond Bar, Fresno and Vacaville, where he planned a new church.
He and his wife Jennifer have been married for 36 years and have two grown children — a daughter in nursing school and a married son with a daughter. Rev. Moser enjoys kayaking around Mission Bay and Point Loma and watching the dolphins, otters and seals.
— Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church —
Address: 6551 Soledad Mountain Road, La Jolla
Phone: (858) 459-3865
Year Established: 1961
Church Dedicated: Nov. 1, 1961
Average Weekend Attendance: 90
Leaders: Rev. John Moser, pastor; Ben Bartel, worship director; Ryan Wheeler, youth director; Sarah Johnson, children’s ministry director; Cindy Green, office administrator; Elizabeth Hagen, Little Steps Preschool director
Worship Services: 10 a.m. Sunday (nursery care is provided for infants and children to age 3 and Sunday school is held for children from pre-school to grade five). Youth Ministry also meets 10 a.m. Sunday. Pastor’s Bible Class 8:40-9:40 a.m. Sunday Drop-in Healing Prayer 6 p.m. Sunday.
Social Groups: Young Adult Community Group 6:30 p.m. Monday at a home in Mission Valley. Adult Community Group, 7 p.m. Wednesday. Young Families Community Group 5:30 p.m. Tuesday includes buffet dinner, Bible study for children and parenting classes for adults. Women’s Bible Study 8:45 a.m. second Saturdays at a private home. Men’s Fellowship 8 a.m. Saturday.
Community Projects: Missions include Dominican Republic, helping plantation workers and their families. Global Legacy of Love, short-term mission projects and disaster relief in various countries around the world. Presbyterian Urban Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach program in San Diego. Homes of Hope, building homes in Mexico. Plant with Purpose, Christian nonprofit organization helps rural poor around the world with community development, agriculture and forestry, and micro-credit enterprise. Little Steps Preschool.