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The Talk of the Community : At the Ethnically Diverse 105-Year-Old Angelica Lutheran Church, Up to 5 Languages Are Used in Services

October 09, 1994|Carlos Paiva

In the city's center stands Angelica Lutheran Church, witness to a changing Los Angeles over the last 105 years since the congregation's founding. The red-brick church with stained-glass windows and pipe organ serves as a spiritual and community center in the ethnically diverse Pico Union district, where many newly arrived residents from Latin America struggle to adjust to a foreign land. Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the church at 1345 S. Burlington Ave., near West Pico Boulevard and West 14th Street, is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Southern California. For four years Carlos Paiva, 43, has been minister. He grew up in Lima, Peru, where he worked as a chemist before coming to Pasadena to study at Fuller Theological Seminary and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley. His wife, Maria, serves as the church's secretary. He was interviewed by Berkley Hudson.


Angelica Church was planted here to serve the community socially, spiritually and however else we can.

I preach in Spanish and minister in Spanish because this is the language of the majority at Angelica. When I first preached to the Spanish-speaking congregation, there were only 10 people, including myself. Now we have 250 members, and 85% to 95% speak only Spanish.

We have two Lutheran services, one in Spanish and one in English. We have a Korean Presbyterian group and a Kanjobal one that is Guatemalan and more like the Baptist denomination.

On Sundays at 9 is the Spanish service, at 10:30 is English, at 11:30 is Korean and at 1:30 is Kanjobal. Our Finnish congregation moved to Van Nuys in June.

Angelica is one of the oldest churches in Los Angeles. The church was founded by the Swedish community. Most of the pastors were Swedish. We still have one service a year, at Christmas, where there is a very traditional Swedish service, the Julotta service.

My first year here the sermon was in Swedish that day. But now it is hard to find a pastor who can speak Swedish. So half of the service is in Swedish, half in English now.

We want to speak the languages spoken in the community, to address the issues and help the people who live around the church.


Most of Angelica's members are new to the Lutheran church. They are of Roman Catholic background. Sometimes they call me father, and I say, "You are right. I have three kids."

We have good relations with the Catholic churches over here. We are not in competition. We just want to share the Gospel.

Our building hosts different agencies trying to heal this community. Angelica is becoming like an oasis so everybody can come here and be building up their families. We have El Rescate here. Their purpose is to help the refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.

We are providing an English as a Second Language course for adults. We are linked with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

During the afternoon we provide entertainment. We provided free karate classes and free aerobics all summer.

One Korean girl offered the aerobics class to 65 ladies who speak only Spanish. She is a second-generation Korean and is bilingual but she didn't speak Spanish. She handled it very well.

During the summer we provided an Angelica Safe Summer program. It was to help the kids on vacation. We provided drama classes, computer classes, basketball, tennis.

We are hosting a program that provides lunch for senior citizens for $1. They come at 9 in the morning and play bingo and at noon they eat and then go back home.

We provide low-income housing for senior citizens. We have more than 40 apartments that were built for our church about 40 years ago.

We have a food distribution program. For one year after the riots we helped to give away baskets of food twice a week. Now we do it on Wednesdays. We are helping 135 families.

Education is one of my priorities--education in everything, not only for school but for life. Most of the people in the neighborhood need basic education in what it means to live in the United States, to be better citizens.

My dream is to have a computer lab that is connected with USC.

Most of the mothers, families . . . around here earn money by taking care of babies for other families. My dream was that somebody would teach these ladies so they could be licensed for child care. UCLA's extension program offered help. So we now have 45 ladies who are meeting in the church every Friday.

One of my dreams is for Angelica to become a library for the whole community. I'm discovering the kids in elementary school, their that parents don't have the ability to read to them (their children) in English.

So if we can get some volunteers who can read to them, that would be very nice.

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