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City Lights: I can only say it's an effort of love

July 14, 2010|Michael Miller

"Joe will be standing back here, and this will be the main sanctuary."

George Mitchell was giving me a guided tour Monday of the hoped-for future grounds of Calvary Chapel of the Harbour, which has operated for seven years as the only church in Sunset Beach and, if the state's blessing comes through, will move a few blocks away to Huntington Beach by the end of the year.

The building is a shell now — stripped-down walls, chalk outlines, piles of rubble lying around — but Mitchell painted the scene as best he could as I struggled to hear him over the rattle of jackhammers.

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"I see it from a construction point of view, but as far as the carpets and the colors and the fabrics, I don't see that," said Mitchell, a church member who owns Mitchell Construction in Huntington Beach and is overseeing Calvary Chapel's move. "My wife sees that. She has a background in interior decoration, so she can come in here and see the finished product. I just see the nuts and bolts."

There are plenty of nuts and bolts, and a fair amount of red tape, before the church can move to its new home in the back corner of Peter's Landing Marina. In December, Calvary Chapel got approval from the City Council to relocate, but the first sermon can't begin until the California Coastal Commission allows the structure to be used for religious purposes. The commission is expected to review the matter at its upcoming meeting from Aug. 11-13.

A few months ago, the Huntington Beach Playhouse's website announced that it couldn't legally disclose the title of one of its upcoming shows yet, but it was a musical about a red-headed orphan girl who often pines for "Tomorrow."

That's kind of the situation with Calvary Chapel now. The church doesn't have the right to officially build a "church" at Peter's Landing — according to city Associate Planner Tess Nguyen, that means no altar, statue of Jesus or any other religious material — but it can rebuild the entire structure, put in new floors and walls and prepare for something to move in.

So for the last month, Mitchell, Pastor Joe Pedick and their fellow members have been doing what the pioneers did: rolling up their sleeves and building their church from scratch. Well, partly, at least. Every week, in between professional construction crews, Calvary Chapel members have been gathering to do "grunt labor," as Mitchell put it, pulling out nails, lifting out the old landscape and filling one trash bag after another.

I'm not a Calvary Chapel member, but I couldn't help but smile when I saw the future grounds under construction at Peter's Landing. A few months ago, when the church began its push to relocate from the Sunset Beach Women's Club, I attended a service there and, due to the tight space, had to sit on a metal folding chair in the hall and listen to the pastor around the corner.

The new Calvary Chapel will be a loss to Sunset Beach, which reportedly has had only one church in its century of existence, but it will be a testament to the men and women who built a popular institution from scratch.

"I see the people finally having a place to sit," Pedick said when I asked about his vision for Peter's Landing. "More than the structure itself, I see the people having a place to sit and hear the word of God."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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