Many churches are sponsoring ambitious musical and dramatic presentations for the Advent season that begins Sunday, though none are on the scale of the Crystal Cathedral's much-advertised "Glory of Christmas" production.
In fact, the scales this year are tipped heavily in favor of the Garden Grove church, which launched the pageant's monthlong run Friday night.
Aside from the show's usual contingent of camels, horses and sheep in the Nativity musical, "Glory" this year also includes a 1,500-pound water buffalo lumbering through the church sanctuary.
The 16th annual musical drama will play at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. most nights, with ticket prices ranging from $15 family nights to $30.
Meanwhile, most church services this Sunday will use music and words to point to the birth of Jesus apropos of the first Sunday of Advent. At All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, a formal "Advent Procession With Carols" will begin at 5 p.m.
Among other church-related dramatic productions and music programs for Advent:
* "Christmas at the Governor's Mansion," a Broadway-style musical by playwright- director Barry Pintar, will begin a four-day run at Glendale Presbyterian Church on Thursday night. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m.; the Dec. 8 show is at 4 p.m. $5. (818) 242-8873.
* Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," presented by La Crescenta Presbyterian Church and its cast of more than 40, will be staged five times Thursday through Dec. 8. Scrooge is played by Ed Krieger. $5 adults, $2.50 children. (818) 249-6137.
* The Los Robles Master Chorale, drawing from choir members of 100 Ventura County churches, will sing the Christmas portion of Handel's "Messiah" and John Rutter's "Gloria" at 8 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. A sing-along is included in the program, which will be televised live on local cable television. Tickets are $20 and $10. (805) 449-ARTS.
* "A Time For Christmas," a play spanning holiday episodes over 2,000 years and featuring a score by composer David T. Clydesdale, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center by the South Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church. Free. (310) 670-4222.
* "Come Celebrate Christmas," a musical drama blending secular and sacred elements of the holiday, will be performed four times next weekend at San Dimas Wesleyan Church, 125 E. Gladstone Ave., starting at 7 p.m. Friday. Free. (909) 599-1603.
* The Ecumenical Male Chorus, a choir founded in 1992 with members from 17 churches, will present a concert of Christmas carols and cantatas at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Guidance Church of Religious Science, 7225 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Free admission, but an offering will be taken. (213) 778-0773.
Observing World AIDS Day, dozens of churches will hold community services designed to expand awareness of the disease.
To benefit Imani Unidos AIDS Project, a charitable arm of Faith United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, a gospel concert will be held at 5 p.m. at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd. The price of admission will be donations of personal care items such as toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo.
The Hollywood Church of Religious Science, 7677 Sunset Blvd., working with the spiritual advisory committee of AIDS Project Los Angeles, will hold a 2 p.m. service with guest speakers, readings and music. Beneficiaries of donations will include Wayland Flowers Hospice and Caring for Babies with AIDS.
The AIDS Team Ministry at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church in Costa Mesa will present a program at 10:30 a.m. Sunday describing its project to prepare and deliver meals to homebound people with AIDS and other catastrophic illnesses. Since early 1993, more than 7,000 meals have been delivered, a church spokeswoman said.
Asserting that more child abuse occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than during the rest of the year, the Loma Linda University Medical Center is holding its second annual clergy conference Thursday on "Children at Risk at Home." Talks will be given by experts from the USC School of Medicine, Azusa Pacific University and Loma Linda University Children's Hospital. The daylong conference at the university's Seventh-day Adventist Chapel will start at 8 a.m. Fee: $45. (909) 824-4367.
* "A Journey of Mutual Discovery" by Japanese Americans and the Jewish community will feature a Buddhist priest and a rabbi in a panel discussion Tuesday evening in West Hills. The Rev. Mas Kodani of the Senshin Buddhist Temple and Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr Ha Torah Congregation are on the panel, starting at 7 p.m., at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen St. Also appearing are Bob Suzuki, president of Cal Poly Pomona, and Sally Weber, a counseling specialist with Jewish Family Service. $10. (213) 852-7730.