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Jerry Earl Johnston: A Hollywood church built on creative Christianity

Published: Saturday, April 12 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

This Sunday Jan. 24, 2010 photo shows a band performing prior to Mosaic Church's pastor Erwin McManus' sermon.

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

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On the foyer wall of the Hollywood Mosaic Church is a mosaic made from the lids of paint cans. Each lid has been painted and arranged in a way that not only pleases the eye but also pleases the heart.

The work speaks of balance, harmony and light.

Call it the visual version of the Mosaic Church's motto.

“Each decision I make is a brushstroke in my life,” explains Matthew Tate, a regular at Mosaic services. “And when we all come together we form a community, a mosaic that God can shine his light through."

Set in a unique-looking building on Hollywood Boulevard, the Mosaic Church traces its history back to the 1960s when a firebrand minister named Thomas A. Wolf laid the groundwork. Today, the driving force behind Mosaic is a hip pastor named Erwin McManus, author of the book “The Artisan Soul.” In his preaching, McManus shows the personal touch of Joel Osteen — tanked on caffeine. But his sermons always return to a theme: the creative nature of God.

“We are works of art and artists at work,” he tells the young people at a noon service. “God is a creator and he has created us in his image. The God who created us made us creative.”

The idea of free-flow imagination and personal expression as a form of religion goes down like a Sunday dinner in this part of Hollywood. And creativity at the Mosaic Church abounds. Besides the lid mosaic, the church has chandeliers made from driftwood, multicolored music staves painted on the wall and even a graffiti mural of people painting a graffiti mural. When it comes time to ask for donations, ushers pass around empty paint cans instead of collection plates.

And there is music — loud and proud rock music. In fact, with its 11-piece praise band and constant witnessing, Mosaic services feel almost Pentecostal. But this isn’t your father’s brand of born-again. When I asked Executive Pastor Lawrence Fudge if Mosaic is an evangelical church, he shruged.

“That’s a question that never comes up,” he said. “It’s not the way people in Los Angeles identify themselves. We have a lot of young people who really don’t know what they believe. So we just try to create a place where the youth can gather.”

And at Mosaic, youth is indeed served. There were 300 people at the service I attended and, as far as I could tell, I was the oldest soul in the room.

“Later in the day the crowds get even younger,” said the 30-ish Pastor Fudge. “By tonight, I’ll be the oldest person in the room.”

So what to make of this paint splashing, poetry preaching, musical ministry. Is it a fad, the next new thing? Or has McManus hit on something elemental?

For one thing, the movement is growing and getting noticed. There are 13 Mosaic churches at the moment — two in the Los Angeles area — catering to people from 60 nationalities. And the movement was recently listed on churchrelevance.com among the 10 most innovative Christian churches in the nation.

What's more, for college-age kids, being told it's time for them to unleash their inner artist, musician or poet can be pretty heady stuff. In his sermon, McManus tells them when Jesus gives an abundance of life, it’s as if he pours so much brightly colored paint on us that it splashes on everyone else around us.

He talks of having to work within frames, within limits.

He says God, like an artist, always takes what’s invisible and makes it visible. We need to follow his lead.

Then he prays: “God, make us your canvas, as we make the world our canvas.”

And with that, he sends everyone out to add creative vision and color to the world we live in — God’s evolving masterpiece.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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