Spiritually Speaking

‘ReNew’-ing A South Pas Congregation

Pastor of Rebranded Methodist Church Has Big Hopes
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Pastor Sam Park outside the ReNew United Methodist Church at 699 Monterey Road. Photos by Skye Hannah

A CHURCH with a historic past has been reborn — in fact, “ReNew”-ed’ — in South Pasadena.

A year after it started services at a church on the hill overlooking 699 Monterey Road, the rebranded ReNew United Methodist Church is dreaming big dreams.

“My hope is that this will be the most vibrant faith community in South Pasadena. That’s my hope,’’ said Pastor Sam Park, who was tasked with restarting the Methodist church that had closed in 2014 because of dwindling attendance.

The United Methodist Church in South Pasadena was originally located at El Centro and Fremont, and may have been the first Protestant church in South Pasadena, Park said.

That church site was sold, and the congregation then moved to the site on the hill. You can see the bell from the original church that was moved to a place just below the mansion.

The mansion and eight-acre estate was willed to the Methodist church by heirs to the Billicke Mansion, which was built in the first decade of the 1900s. Park said that one story he heard was that the original family had been lost on the Titanic. The mansion had been passed down and finally willed to the church in the 1960s. That’s when the current sanctuary was built.

The church offices are in the mansion, as is a privately owned school.

The Methodist church decided to restart a congregation, and brought in Park, who had experience with developing a program in Pasadena. The move was personal for Park, who has been a South Pasadena resident for 28 years.

Services at ReNew are conducted in English at 11 a.m. on Sunday. There are also Methodist services conducted in Chinese and Korean for other congregations at other times on Sunday.

“I thought it was wonderful, but there are a whole lot of things that have to happen,’’ Park said. “The mansion has to be redone. Some physical facilities have to be redone.

“But we have to revisit the faith community. After all, we are building a faith community. The church is not a building. It is people.’’

Park walks along a path on the church’s eight-acre property. He hopes to revitalize the path and turn it into a prayer trail, among other plans. Photos by Skye Hannah

The church has already grown from 20 people to 75 during the most recent holidays.

Congregants spread the word to friends and neighbors, and handed out flyers about the new church. There is a YouTube site talking about the church, its congregants and its mission.

In the YouTube piece, congregants use words like “multicultural’’ and “feeling at home’’ when describing this church where some of them have been for less than a year.

“What this community has given me is a renewal in my own spirit — especially from a musical standpoint,’’ Matt Gruppen, who is now worship director of the church, said in the YouTube video.

“And it has allowed me to heal from some of those environments I’d been a part of before because of the people the people, and that’s what ReNew has ultimately come to mean in my journey.

“It is a place where I can come and feel welcomed and feel that I am part of a place where everyone is in it together. I’ve been so impressed how everyone owns this vision together. That’s rare.’’

The possibilities for the congregation are huge — operating on eight acres of land that are wooded and with wonderful views. South Pasadena residents once took a path through the woods that went all the way to the water tower. That path is now clogged with brush, but Park dreams of revitalizing the path some day and turning it into a prayer trail.

He sees youngsters walking by on their way to school, and thinks, “Why don’t we offer them a youth center where they can safely come after school?’’

A group of people congregating after a meeting sparks an idea for a conversation place with benches and trees between the mansion and the church.

The dreams carry into the church itself, which is in need of physical repair. The roof has been repaired, but there are still stains on the carpet from leaks.

Park most of all would like to continue to grow that congregation to where it would not only fill the 150-person capacity, but also necessitate another service, perhaps on a weekday night.

These dreams cost money to be turned into reality.

The pastor has already started to strategize ways to finance his plans. He is understandably reluctant to publicize them now while they are in such an early stage.

Right now, there is a plan and a dream — and Park hopes that they merge into a new reality.

“We have an opportunity to grow because of our facilities and land,’’ Park said. “This is an  opportunity to develop something that will be there for another hundred years.

“Some churches have developed land to survive. We plan to develop land in the midst of thriving.

“That’s why we have rebranded.’’

For more information on ReNew Methodist Church, go to www.renewumc.org; or email psamrenew@gmail.com

Andy Lippman

A former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Associated Press, Lippman writes weekly about some South Pasadena person, business, issue or trend.

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