Churchless in Downtown LA
I moved downtown almost three months ago. I could rattle off a list of reasons for why I left the tidy suburbs of Orange County to live in the heat and grit of Los Angeles, but all lead back to two simple things:
1. I love new adventures
2. I wanted to be closer to work
If I’m honest, reason 2 was more of an excuse I used to accomplish reason 1. Adventure.
Mmmm…smell that unique Los Angeles air. It ain’t roses, in fact it is probably trash and grime, but it is fresh all the same.
Most suburban people (that I know anyway) don’t think of moving to LA for the sake of adventure, much less downtown. People move to LA to get into the film industry, and when they say they “live in LA,” they mean they live in Hollywood (if they’re lucky), or Silver Lake (if they’re lucky, hip, and rich), or the Valley (more than likely).
But downtown? Basically since its heyday in the Fifties, this freeway sequestered hub for banking, textile and toy manufacturing, fashion design, and wholesale seafood distribution has been on the decline. Somewhere along the line, people with power and influence stopped talking about it and eventually moved away from it for the quieted streets and backyard-laden suburbs. We see this especially in the late eighties, at the rise of Skid Row, where today it is the only legal place in America to sleep on the streets between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
So really, why downtown?
If I was going to live in LA, I knew wanted something I could afford, somewhere I would be inspired, and some place I wouldn’t have to drive a car in order to get to work. It may sound fatalistic, and posh, and all kinds of other rich-kid suburban descriptors, but downtown was one of the only areas I could satisfy those parameters. Enter Lady Downtown. “Hello, ma’am. We’ll be getting to know a lot of each other now won’t we?”
Something you should know if you don’t already:
I value living amongst and being a part of a faith community. It’s in my blood, and I really mean that. I was raised to believe in Jesus, and sometime around the age of seventeen I started believing it. I’d listened to teachers tell me how to live like a good boy all my life, but it wasn’t until I saw how a team of selfish high schoolers like me could want to live for someone else’s well being that I started to read about Jesus. I took his teachings about living alternatively seriously. More on the rest of this another time. Simply note: Aaron lives in LA, and Aaron wants to be part of a church.
But a church I still have yet to find. It is not that downtown doesn’t have churches. It does, it is just that they are mostly spanish-speaking, Catholic, both, or a little more on the light show and “seeker-friendly” side than I am comfortable with. Call me picky, but I’ve seen at least four churches downtown now and haven’t been satisfied. And look, I know how that sounds. I know all of the reasons for why church-shopping should be avoided, and just hunkering down and getting dirty with people is what I should be doing. At the same time, though, I know God hasn’t asked me to just join up in any old place. In fact, I legitimately believe God wants me to be apart of a small community downtown. I ask God almost everyday where I should go and who I should join up with.
But today, I am still churchless.
And in some ways, it’s okay. I have great friends who love Jesus, a family who loves Jesus, a boss who loves Jesus. My community of other believers is basically inescapable. I know where to get sermons via podcast. I pray with my roommates.
Still, there’s something to having a community of Jesus people, who may be unlike you and possibly unlikeable to you, that is central to growing as a Christian.
Wouldn’t you agree?