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Community News: Mid-City

WESTLAKE : Pueblo Nuevo: The Park Is Their Church

October 25, 1992|JAKE DOHERTY

Worshiping outdoors each Sunday in MacArthur Park, a new Westlake congregation is proving that a church is more than a building.

About 50 people from the Westlake neighborhood make up the congregation of Pueblo Nuevo (Spanish for "new community"), which was organized by the Rev. Philip Lance, a young Episcopal priest who is fluent in Spanish.

"I used to work in Echo Park and I thought people there were poor," said Lance, who worked at St. Athanasius Parish. "But (Westlake) is really tough. In addition to the drugs and gangs, people here face a lot of emotional violence every day."

The average yearly income of his congregants is about $10,000, and a number of them are unemployed. "It's amazing how people struggle to survive in this neighborhood, yet maintain hope," Lance said.

While working with the Janitors for Justice campaign, Lance met Rosa Ayala, a janitor and Local 399 activist looking to combine her union work with spiritual renewal. She soon joined Lance in pulling together the small-but-growing Pueblo Nuevo congregation.

"Through our church we are seeking divine justice, but it's through organizing that we seek justice against exploitation," Ayala said.

Since they don't have a chapel, the congregation has its 4 p.m. worship service and picnic in MacArthur Park. Although the worshipers have little themselves, they often share their food with homeless who wander by.

"This congregation may be small, but our heart is big," Ayala said.

Pueblo Nuevo has received financial support from All Saints Church in Beverly Hills and the Episcopal Diocese, but the congregation is determined to be self-sufficient, even with its shoestring budget.

"We realized that the only way for us to get some money to help the community was to start our own business of some sort," Ayala said. On Saturday, the congregation, with the help of a grant from the Episcopal Diocese, will open its Pueblo Nuevo Thrift Shop at 1732 W. 7th St.

Run by volunteers from the congregation, the shop will sell used furniture, clothing, household appliances and other items donated by local businesses, churches and individuals. Profits will be used for renting chapel space, possibly next door to the shop, and funding programs such as retreats for people battling drug or alcohol addictions.

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