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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 20, 2010

L.A. churches run into marathon-related issues

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By Martha Groves
Los Angeles Times

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Rev. Mary E. Haddad, of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, canceled all morning services on race day but will hold an evening one.

MEL MELCON | LA Times via McClatchy-Tribune

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LOS ANGELES The Rev. Mary E. Haddad found it bizarre one recent Sunday to be telling the congregation at All Saints Church in Beverly Hills to not bother showing up tomorrow morning.

"Remember the Sabbath and keep it aerobic," the interim rector quipped. Officials of the Episcopal church had decided to cancel all four morning services on the day of the Los Angeles Marathon and hold one 6 p.m. service instead.

"In 18 years of professional church work, I've never known anything to close church on a Sunday morning," Haddad said, adding that the decision speaks to L.A.'s automobile culture.

Genuflecting before the reality of road closures, crowds and parking problems, religious leaders at several places of worship on or near the 26.2-mile marathon route have made out-of-the-ordinary arrangements for race day.

According to race organizers, 14 churches sit along the new "Stadium to the Sea" route, and 88 others are within a five-block radius. The names reflect the city's diversity: Chinese Buddhist Association, Filipino Christian Church, Centro Cristiano Pentecostal, Sung Lim Korean Presbyterian Church.

Brentwood Presbyterian Church is encouraging members to spend part of its "Marathon of Service" weekend preparing food for homeless people, gleaning fruit in Oxnard or planting trees. Some members will remain at the church to play music from the film "Chariots of Fire" and cheer on runners as they pass Mile 22.

Last year, the marathon was held on Memorial Day, a Monday, after a number of downtown churches complained that detours and crowds on the traditional Sunday in March kept parishioners away. For many churches, the limited access also meant drastic reductions in collection-plate money.

"Inevitably, the route would cut off access to literally dozens of churches" in downtown and south and central Los Angeles, said Father John S. Bakas of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The disruptions affected nearly a million people, he said.

Memorial Day, however, proved problematic for a number of reasons. Marathon officials said participation fell by roughly 5,000 competitors, and the L.A. Marathon organization had to reimburse 2,000 runners who had thought the event would be in March. City officials also feared that excessively hot weather could dramatically increase the number of medical emergencies among entrants. The weather ended up being mild, but officials said they could not always count on that.

Ginger Williams, the marathon organization's director of community relations, began communicating with churches months ago. A few, she said, sought directions for routing members around street closures and into parking garages.

The Rev. Dave Carpenter, pastor of Brentwood Presbyterian, said at first it seemed "off-the-charts unbelievable" that the L.A. Marathon might stop Sunday morning worship in its tracks. Then the "Marathon of Service" idea took hold.

"The marathon could be seen as an affront to religious freedom or an opportunity to support the community and be good partners," Carpenter said. "We decided right away that's better than going out and picketing."