SANTA MONICA, Calif .– The closets at Herley Jim Bowling are full of beautiful dresses, long dresses in velvet, tulle, silk and organza.
What would you like to know
- The church at Ocean Park was founded in 1923, the congregation is non-denominational but is hosted by the Methodist Church
- The structure needs renovations and their roof is damaged
- Insurance will not cover the $ 100,000 needed for repairs, so congregation turns to community for financial help
- The 98-year-old building is in a historic district and is one of the oldest structures in the city
He’s been collecting his clothes for years, and as a gender nonconforming he feels just as comfortable in denim as he does in one of his many dresses.
“It gives power; it’s part of me. I can enjoy being who I am, ”Bowling said.
Bowling, 73, said he wasn’t always so comfortable with himself. Growing up, her father was a Methodist pastor and the family led itinerant lives – in each new location Bowling did its best to fit in.
“I didn’t feel like I could be totally myself,” Bowling said.
He later began to experiment more with gender expression. In his twenties he moved to Los Angeles and was living a few blocks from the beach when he stumbled upon The Church In Ocean Park, another Methodist church but quite different from the congregations of his youth.
“I walked in and started to get involved. I quickly realized that it was more innovative than what I had grown up in. I was delighted, ”Bowling explained.
On the outside, The Church In Ocean Park looks traditional – arched stained glass windows, an unassuming porch, and a white sign that says “The Church In Ocean Park United Methodist.”
The ethics of the organization, however, are radical. It was founded in 1923, and since its inception the church has focused on acceptance. Activism is a recurring theme. In the 1980s, the main space of the church sanctuary was used as a meeting place for activists fighting for better rent control in the city. Current pastor, Reverend Janet Gollery McKeithen, has married LGBTQ + couples since 2008.
While the Methodist Church accommodates them, in practice it is a non-denominational space. Sermons and speeches are just as likely to be about spirituality as climate change, racial justice, and immigration.
It is this community that has helped Bowling feel more comfortable in expressing itself fully.
“It was a crucial element for me to accept myself more. Be more welcome to who I am, ”Bowling said.
For nearly 50 years, Bowling has attended services in person, but since the pandemic he and the 126 other members have attended virtually. While many religious communities have returned to meet in person, The Church In Ocean Park does not have a date set to return to their sanctuary due to massive structural damage. The roof falls.
While planning to reopen the space, McKeihen found a pile of rubble on the ground.
“About six months ago the ceiling fell, luckily no one was hurt,” McKeithen said.
They had an appraisal done and realized that the whole roof was compromised. The repairs will cost $ 100,000.
“I wasn’t too worried at first. When I found out the insurance company wouldn’t cover it, that’s when it all went downhill. We don’t have a lot of big donors, ”McKeithen said.
They turned to GoFundMe but at the moment they are far from their goal. Despite the challenge, McKeithen is optimistic in part because other organizations have expressed interest in keeping the structure in place.
“The Church in Ocean Park is 98 years old. It is in the middle of a historic district. It is a contributory building. The Santa Monica Conservancy is concerned that he will stay here, ”McKeithen said.
While structure is important, McKeithen also notes that the space-favored community is too valuable to be lost, especially for people who have felt excluded from other religious groups.
“This church is completely different, we are not trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Everyone we meet has something to offer us, ”McKeihen said.
It is this unusual approach to religion that has prompted Herley Jim Bowling to return to The Church In Ocean Park since he first entered its doors. He said the Zoom reunion had been rewarding, but he misses sitting down with other devotees in the building he has grown to love.
“The most important thing we can do is create loving communities. It doesn’t depend on a building, but it really helps to have a dedicated space for that, ”Bowling said.