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Region & State

Church Gets Mileage From Its Gas Subsidy

A Tustin service station sells gas at $1.67 a gallon for a day, underwritten by a congregation that wanted to get its message out to motorists.

August 22, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

Hear 1 Corinthians, get 87 octane.

In an effort to get people -- figuratively and literally -- pumped for Christ, the Main Place Christian Fellowship offered $1.67-a-gallon gasoline at a Tustin service station Saturday, 40 cents off the regular price.

The catch? There really wasn't one. Church members in matching yellow shirts handed out bottled water, wiped windows and passed out literature as motorists waited at the Shell station at Red Hill Avenue and El Camino Real.

They said the subsidized gas campaign is a way to spread the word while promoting their 500-plus-member church.

"Galatians 6:10 says 'Do good to all men,' " volunteer Wendy Perlin said, a stack of Gospel of John booklets in her hands. "And all men and women go to the gas station. It's just a way to bless the community."

Senior Pastor Rich Mathisrud had read about a Kansas City church that tried the idea and thought it would work well in Southern California.

Mathisrud contacted Vahe Hovnanian, a Christian and manager of Sam's Shell next to the church. Hovnanian was taken with the idea.

"It's a win-win situation for God, for our customers and for us," Hovnanian said. "And in that order."

Over the last five weeks, church members raised $5,000 for the event. On Friday, the church handed over a check, enough to cover the 40-cent difference for more than 12,000 gallons of gas.

About 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Hovnanian changed the plastic $2.07-a-gallon sign for low-grade gas to $1.67.

And vehicles began lining up.

Mike Raphael drove from Corona -- 50 miles round trip -- after hearing about the promotion. He was greeted by a smiling Perlin.

"So you're getting blessed today with cheap gas," she told Raphael.

"And I'm getting blessed every day," he replied.

Over at Pump 3, Shay Jefferson's reaction to her $14.92 bill was two "wows."

Leonard Coleman was also in high spirits after topping off. He had received a tip from his son earlier in the morning.

Church youth director Leanne Grant said the No. 1 question was why they were doing this. Her answer: "This is a practical way to show Jesus' love and meet the needs of the community."

Organizers estimated more than 600 vehicles filled up Saturday. But the church spent only half of the $5,000, so they plan to do the promotion again in September.

At the Mobil station across the street, where prices remained above $2, clerk Nicole Beck had a clear view of the scene -- mainly because there weren't many vehicles at her station blocking the view. "It's been a little slow," she said. "It's hurt our business just a bit."

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