One of the most storied congregations in the mainline Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is locked in a bitter power struggle over finances and a contemporary worship service that has kindled renewal.

Attorneys for First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood have filed an official complaint with the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii. They are seeking to reverse actions by the Presbytery of the Pacific that placed senior pastor Alan J. Meenan and associate pastor David Manock on administrative leave and put the church under its supervision.

The presbytery took action after a stormy special meeting on May 3 precipitated by some 40 complaints from the 2,700-member church's congregation and staff. Critics point out that the church spent $840,000 more than it took in last year. Church leaders implemented a tighter 2005 budget and plan to sell a piece of property to more than cover the deficit.

An examining committee expressed concern that neither Meenan nor Manock could "provide effective leadership at this time in the life of the church." Most church members disagree.

"Most of the people in the congregation were in shock," said Jeff Traintime, the church's former director of communications. "We had no idea there were significant complaints about the pastors. There is great affection for them."

Once the largest Presbyterian congregation in America, Hollywood Presbyterian has a rich heritage as the church home of Christian education pioneer Henrietta Mears, the launching pad for Bill Bright's ministry, and the pulpit of renowned preachers Louis Evans and Lloyd Ogilvie.

The presbytery, which alone has the authority to discipline or release pastoral staff, has put one of its commissions in charge of all church matters during the investigation. The church claims in its judicial motion that the presbytery violated the denomination's rules of order, and that the administrative commission should be disbanded, and all of its actions negated.

The controversy has surfaced talk of Hollywood Presbyterian leaving the declining 2.5-million-member PC(USA). Hollywood Presbyterian began offering a rock worship service called CUE (Contemporary Urban Experience), conducted in an area nightclub. The contemporary service, which draws nearly 400 worshipers, sparked much of the church's growth in the last year. The ministry's young leaders announced May 15 that they are splitting from Hollywood Presbyterian and have formed a new nondenominational church. Traintime, a CUE leader, told CT, "The church believes the presbytery is too liberal."

It's a high-stakes skirmish that illustrates the stress felt by evangelical congregations that remain in mainline denominations.

One member of the staff said "there is an entrenched minority that was in place before Pastor Meenan came to Hollywood. They are quite traditional and don't like the innovative ministry and nontraditional worship that's become part of some services."

Another member of the pastoral staff endorsed the presbytery-appointed commission, because the church "has problems."

The synod had until June 20 to rule on the church's complaint.

Related Elsewhere:

News elsewhere on Hollywood Presbyterian includes:

Alternative service splits from Hollywood Presbyterian | Members of an alternative worship service that attracted hundreds of new worshippers to one of the most well-known Presbyterian churches in the nation will break away and form a nondenominational church after conflict within the historic congregation, they said. (Associated Press, May 17, 2005)
A Church Clash | Hollywood First Presbyterian torn between old and new (Associated Press, May 14, 2005)

Terry Mattingly, a journalist and blogger at GetReligion, has some added commentary about the worship wars at Hollywood Presbyterian.

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