Sports arena turns into Sunday house of prayer
It’s Sunday morning, 9:15 a.m. on East Campus. Outside the Sports Pavilion, people gather around coffee tables and hide under the parasols, getting away from the reaching sun, trying to catch an ocean breeze. The color themes of fabric flags that sway in the wind are orange and black. Sunday service at Reality Church is about to begin.
Reality has leased City College facilities every Sunday since August 2011 for “Sunday Morning Worship Gathering.” The church and college renewed their contract this month, so Reality will remain on campus for three more years.
“There isn’t any change in the contract. We pay the same amount this year as we did before, $13,144 a month this year,” said Tyler Morgan,pastor for finance and business.” Reality also agreed to a consumer price index increase each year.
By most estimates, Reality draws up to 1,500 people to City College every Sunday. Worshipers take over the Sports Pavilion, while child care is provided on the second floor of the IDC on West Campus.
It takes about 150 volunteers to set up the service. Volunteers start at 6 a.m. to arrange the scene, stage and the sound.
On this Sunday, volunteer Emilie Crawford makes breakfast for those preparing the stage. Asked if she would rather have a real church for the Sunday service, she said that a church building is not important.
“It is not so much about the building itself, since the church is all about the people,” Crawford said. “God has blessed us with this. Look at the view! This location is beyond what we could imagine.”
Reality is one of several groups the college is leasing facilities on weekend to bring in income. Weddings are held at the Winslow Maxwell Overlook. The West Campus bluff tops have become popular spots for fund-raisers and festivals.
“We are really thankful for being here,” Morgan said. ”The space is what we need, the parking is great, and the setup is not too bad for how many people we get in to come.”
Reality moved to Santa Barbara two years ago after the group outgrew its old facility in Carpinteria. Merrick started Reality Carpinteria in 2003 and now has branches in Los Angeles, Stockton, San Francisco and overseas in London, England.
In its contract with City College, the church agrees to set up and break down every Sunday. The college provides nothing but the buildings.
“We did not have to put capital invest in buying a property,” said Stan Sinclair, pastor and campus coordinator. “We are realizing in this economy we cannot spend $30 million dollars on a property.
“This is a win-win for both the school and for the church. Facilities on campus are not being used on Sundays, and we don’t need it during the week. So we both benefit from this collaboration.”
The service is about to begin, and music pounds as one enters the Sports Pavilion. Sweet voices flow up from the first floor toward the second. The building— usually packed with athletes and coaches—radiates harmony and warmth. People young and old, single and families, begin to fill the seats. They shake hands, hug and laugh.
At 10 a.m. the lights shuts down and eyes glance toward the big screen on the stage where the lyrics of Christian songs are displayed. People stand and slowly begin to sing. After the first verse and first chorus, the assembly sings out loud. Hands start to reach toward the ceiling and sway simultaneously. The last chorus is sung a cappella.
After singing their prayers, the crowd sits. Some folding their hands, other take notes. This week’s paster, Chris Lazo, walks on the stage; he is the interim pastor for preaching. He gives a sermon about the Christian prophets and apostles.
“We teach people how to enjoy Jesus, and we want to teach others to do the same at their work and in the city,” he said. This, he added, is the mission of Reality Church.
After his sermon, people close their eyes. The world stops for a moment before the music starts to play again, and the hall is once again filled with sweet voices.