Mosaic Church has been performing baptisms in the parking lot behind the Rialto Theatre on Fair Oaks Avenue. City officials have told the church to stop and the church has agreed to do so.

City officials have told a local church to stop performing baptisms in the open parking lot behind the Rialto Theatre on Fair Oaks Avenue where it currently holds services.

The MOSAIC Church – housed in the historic Rialto Theatre at 1023 Fair Oaks Ave. under a conditional use permit with South Pasadena – has performed baptisms on at least one weekend day in the parking lot behind the theater. The Review, which learned about the baptisms from a concerned reader, asked the city about the practice and the city has since requested the church to stand down from performing any more baptisms.

“The Conditional Use Permit from the city does not authorize outdoor religious activities such as baptisms,” John Pope, city interim public information officer, said in an email to The Review. “City staff has notified church leaders to inform them that this activity is not permitted under the CUP. The city has received assurances that it will not continue.”

The MOSAIC Church uses the historic Rialto Theatre on Fair Oaks Avenue under a conditional use permit with South Pasadena. Photo by Steve Whitmore

Although church officials say baptisms are special, they will comply with city’s request.

“Anyone who has experienced a Mosaic baptism has found it to be a beautiful expression of faith here in South Pasadena, however, we will always comply with the city’s wishes,” Erwin Raphael McManus, founder and lead pastor with MOSAIC. “We are so grateful to be a part of this community.”  

The church operates under a CUP, which requires it to follow certain rules that include resolving parking issues, among others.

The city requires the Christian-based church, which has locations in Hollywood, Venice, Orange County and Mexico, to report quarterly as a condition of using the theater for its services. The parking requirement was added to the CUP about a year ago because the Rialto is a uniquely significant structure in the city.

Moreover, church officials addressed the planning commission during its last meeting on July 25, requesting the elimination of the quarterly reports. The Planning Commission continued that request until Oct. 22.

City and church officials agree that parking issues are being handled appropriately. During the June 25 meeting, however, things apparently got emotional resulting in church officials asking for more cooperation, especially in light of what they were doing and planning on doing to refurbish the South Pasadena landmark.

Mosaic officials argued that the quarterly reports were burdensome, and that they would like to feel trusted by the community and are considering purchasing and further investing in the Rialto Theatre.

There are some community members, though, that don’t believe the church is operating in good faith with city.

One neighbor went so far as to file a letter with the city, citing, among other concerns, the baptism issue.

“If the Mosaic Church were using the facility to simply host services on Sunday mornings, I would have no objection to this use,” the letter states. “However, in practice, the activities of the church typically extend all day on Saturday and Sunday…On Sundays, the church often hosts well-attended and enthusiastically loud baptism ceremonies in the back-parking lot.”

Despite the concerns, McManus maintains his optimism regarding the future relationship between the church and  South Pasadena.
“We feel very positive about the meeting and our relationship with the commission and the City of South Pasadena,” McManus said in an email to The Review last week. “We are hopeful that the next quarterly progress report will satisfy the commission and we are glad that the previous reports have gone so well. We look forward to being in the Rialto long term.” 

Steve Whitmore
Author

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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