At least six taxis, sometimes twice that many, arrive for the Sunday morning service at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles carrying regular worshipers from as far away as Glendale and Pasadena.
The fares for these churchgoers, mostly older women, runs as high as $60 (from Pasadena) for the round trip.
These are not wealthy dowagers indulging themselves for the pleasure of attending services in the Gothic structure on Wilshire Boulevard--however rich the experience may be to sit in the high-vaulted 1,500-seat sanctuary with the magnificent choir loft and colorful stained-glass windows.
Immanuel Presbyterian is perhaps one of few churches to pick up the tab for anyone who needs transportation--and to do so regularly with cab service.
Some congregations operate a bus or van for residents of a nearby church-related senior citizens' home. For instance, Temple Israel of Hollywood rents a van to pick up elderly members for Friday night services, but it asks for donations to defray the costs.
Most congregations seek volunteers among their members who can give rides to scattered churchgoers without transportation.
That was how Alice B. Lothrop, a member of Immanuel Presbyterian, got to church years ago. When she died in 1971, however, Lothrop left money in her estate "for the purpose of transporting to and from the Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services any who otherwise would not be able to attend," according to provisions in the fund.
That has meant taxis. The church, using two cab companies, estimates that it has paid the fares for about 5,400 trips. Most of those who use the service are women over 65 who attend the 11 a.m. Sunday service. The church no longer has a Wednesday evening service, but church officials say taxis are used for some people who attend a weekday lunch or a women's association meeting at the church.
"It's really a great service," said Ruth Beck, who handled weddings and women's activities on the Immanuel staff for 26 years. She has lived for the last three years at the Presbyterian-related Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena. The same cab that takes her 22 miles to church usually picks up another regular, Mary Wallace, also of Pasadena.
"I very often take visitors with me," Beck said. "They think it's a little weird, but they enjoy going along."
On religious holidays or on Sundays when Communion services are scheduled, Beck said, as many as 12 or 14 taxis show up at Immanuel Presbyterian.
Manuel C. Gatmaitan Jr., Immanuel Presbyterian's business manager, said the church's Women's Aid Society, which administers the transportation fund, has worried about how long the free service can be sustained, although it still has $42,000 in cash and about $75,000 in stock.
The question has arisen whether the fund will be reduced much faster once more people know about it.
Even if that happens, "that's what the fund is for," Gatmaitan said. He also speculated that some users would eventually donate money to offset some of the costs.
Immanuel, like many urban churches, has passed its well-to-do days. "We had 4,000 members some 20 years ago, and we have between 800 and 900 now," Gatmaitan said. He has worked at the church for five years; the senior pastor is the Rev. James Froede, who is serving on an interim basis.
The congregation, which will be 100 years old in 1988, has resisted pressures to move from its mid-Wilshire location. Gatmaitan said it turned down a "serious offer" from a Korean-American church to buy its building. More recently, the church rejected a bid for part of its facility from the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle, which meets at nearby Ambassador Hotel.
"We think we have a future here and can grow," Gatmaitan said, adding that he believes the church needs to do a better job of publicizing what it has to offer.