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SPECIAL REPORT: Putting Down Roots : The Times Poll : Religion Runs Full Gamut in North County

April 25, 1991|JANET LOWE

The most common type of community activity that North County residents participate in is church-related. Although 52% said they don't get involved in any community activities, 20% said that they participate in church activities. --The Times Poll

Calvary Chapel/North Coast isn't a typical church, at least not in the old-fashioned American sense.

There is no steeple with bell, there is no pipe organ and vaulted altar. Yet the parking lot at the Encinitas shopping center the church calls home begins to fill early Sunday morning. By 10:30, cars are lined up down Vulcan Avenue. When Pastor Ed Smith begins services, most seats are taken and dozens of worshipers stand outside listening to the music, Scriptures and the sermon from a muted speaker system.

With its New Age music and surfer-to-senior citizen congregation, Calvary Chapel seems very different from other houses of worship, and in some ways it is. But Pastor Ed and his parish share many traits with other North County spiritual centers.

Diversity, an enthusiastic ecumenical spirit, a commitment to community and family life and, finally, a critical scarcity of meeting space are the ties that bind religious life here.

From the 193-year-old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside to the new Mormon Temple arising beside Interstate 5 near La Jolla, North County specializes in both old and new, bold and traditional.

Some of North County's unique centers of worship have been here for decades. Most beach lovers are familiar with the graceful white buildings of the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. The rest of the country may have discovered Eastern religions in the 1960s, but the Self-Realization Fellowship has been in Encinitas since 1936.

The international headquarters of the mystical Christian Rosicrucian Society sits on a hillside west of the Mission San Luis Rey, virtually in the center of Oceanside. Visitors are welcome to the 40-acre campus, an oasis of peace in a hectic city setting. The Rosicrucians have called this hilltop home since 1911.

Even within specific faiths, the nuances are many.

Alexander Federoff, for example is priest at St. John of Damascus in Poway, part of the Orthodox Church in America.

This church has its roots in Russian Orthodoxy, but serves Orthodox Christians of Greek, Syrian, Serbian and all ethnic backgrounds. Of the same fundamental faith but different administration is Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, the pristine white building with the glittering gold dome that overlooks the San Elijo Lagoon south of Encinitas. Motorists on I-5 sometimes glimpse the shape of the cross that appears when the setting sun glints off the dome at a certain angle.

There are six stakes with 18 chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or Mormon), but also several Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) churches. The RLDS has headquarters in Missouri and is headed by lineal descendants of founder Joseph Smith.

Although some neighborhoods and individuals have been less than kind to new or unfamiliar religions, North County church leaders and members seem to welcome those who are different and to accept the differences.

"Last year, when the San Dieguito Interfaith Council held its annual Thanksgiving Service at Temple Solel in Encinitas, more than 1,000 people of all faiths attended," according to Deacon Ed Grass, who heads the council. "The benediction was given by Rabbi Bohm and a German woman Lutheran minister."

Churches in North County offer many services besides providing a spiritual home.

Perhaps because North County areas grew, on an average, more than 58% in the past decade, people look to the churches to fill many needs. Classes in the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu are sponsored by and taught at the Unity Christ Church in Carlsbad. Congregation Beth Am in Solana Beach has offered medical hypnosis classes, and a dozen churches open their halls for musical presentations and concerts.

Both independently and through Pastor Rafael Martinez's North County Chaplaincy, local churches strive to respond to some of the newest and neediest residents, the migrant workers.

The North County Chaplaincy is a ecumenically supported social service agency. Each Saturday, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church offers Mass, breakfast, medical and legal counseling for farm workers in the fields at Black Mountain in Rancho Los Penasquitos.

In an area where the average house price would buy an Arkansas farm, the cost of North County real estate has prevented many religious groups from having homes of their own.

Before the St. John of Damascus church began its 10- to 12-year building program, said Father Federoff, "we borrowed, rented and met in many places."

The Chalice Unitarian Universalist Church meets at the Poway Theater, the La Costa Community Church gathers at Dieguito Junior high School and has its offices in a business park.

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