Hollywood at Church: Where the A-List Prays

The biggest believers in the business, from Maria Shriver to Denzel Washington, celebrate Christmas in these houses of worship, where the industry shows its devotion from baptism to burial.
Illustration by: Todd Detwiler

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Yes Virginia, there are Christians in the biz. Just as L.A. has its power synagogues, each Dec. 25, the devout make their pilgrimages to the area's chosen churches, including Bel Air Presbyterian (Nancy Reagan is a regular) and the Pentecostal West Angeles Church of God in Christ (congregants include Samuel L. Jackson and Stevie Wonder). Some industry figures have become the lords of their respective Lord's houses in the local imagination, from Pat Boone at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys to the late Bob Hope at St. Charles Borromeo in North Hollywood. There's even a history of building basilicas, whether it be the Fox- and United Artists-affiliated Skouras brothers erecting the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 1952 or Mel Gibson financing his Vatican-breakaway Church of the Holy Family in Agoura Hills in 2003, where Mass is performed entirely in Latin. Welcome to Holy-wood!

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Bel Air Presbyterain, 16221 Mulholland Drive
Built: 1956
Affiliation: Presbyterian
In The Pews: Leonardo DiCaprio, Nancy Reagan, Britney Spears

Bel Air “Pres,” as it’s known, is where Ronald Reagan’s family held his funeral and Debbie Reynolds once narrated the Christmas pageant. The church, which sits atop Mulholland Drive and overlooks the San Fernando Valley, has an outreach ministry specifically for the entertainment business called Beacon. “They have workshops and boot camps and have all kinds of cool industry people come in,” says a veteran of the group.

St. Monica, 725 California Ave.
Built: 1926
Affiliation: Catholic
In The Pews: Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney, Martin Sheen, Kelsey Grammer

This Santa Monica stalwart lures the coastal faithful. “Maria Shriver goes to Mass every day — just as Rose Kennedy did,” confides one congregant — and Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen married at the church in 2009. But its Hollywood history dates back much further:St. Monica’s long-serving pastor, the late Monsignor Nicholas Conneally, was the model for Barry Fitzgerald’s character in the 1945 Oscar best picture winner Going My Way. Fitzgerald also won an Oscar.

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West Angeles Church of God in Christ, 3600 Crenshaw Blvd.
Built: 2001
Affiliation: Pentecostal
In The Pews: Stevie Wonder,Magic Johnson, Angela Bassett

This mega church in South L.A., founded in 1943, is the congregation of choice among the African-American A-list. Denzel Washington has called Bishop Charles E. Blake his “mentor.” Other parishioners include Samuel L. Jackson and Courtney B. Vance. West Angeles’ Mass Choir was nominated for a best traditiona lgospel Grammy in 2009 and backed up Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson on that year’s broadcast.

Church of the Good Shepherd, 501 N. Bedford Drive
Built: 1924
Affiliation: Catholic
In The Pews: Vanessa Williams, WME’s Ann DuVal, Mark Wahlberg, Prime PR’s Michael Donkis

Jokingly called “Our Lady of the Cadillacs,” the Beverly Hills house of worship is a magnet for the posh yet pious. “You get to say ‘peace be with you’ to Markie Mark and Brooke Shields,” says one regular.(Wahlberg got married there and has since received an awardfor his work benefiting homeless women.) Rudolph Valentino, Frank Sinatra and Merv Griffin had their funerals there. A Star Is Born shot its funeral scene there too.

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St. Sophia, 1324 S. Normandie Ave.

Built: 1952
Affiliation: Greek Orthodox
In The Pews: Arianna Huffington, Nia Vardalos, Rita Wilson

Just as the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple draws the Westside’s industry Jews to Koreatown for services, St. Sophia does the same even farther to Harvard Heights — a heavily Hispanic area that was once a Greek neighborhood. Built with funds provided by brothers Charles, Spyros and George Skouras — all top execs at Fox and United Artists —St. Sophia has since become the go-to cathedral for Hellenic Hollywoodlanders.

St. Victor, 8634 Holloway Drive
Built: 1906
Affiliation: Catholic
In The Pews: Mickey Rourke, T.R. Knight

Comedian Jimmy Durante, Cesar Romero and Ricardo Montalban were all members of this sanctuary just off the Sunset Strip. Monsignor John J. Devlin had an influential role in the industry during the days of the Production Code as the head of the Legion of Decency (a moralistic media watchdog akin to the Parents Television Council). More recently, the West Hollywood church, with its sizable core of gay parishioners, has been active in AIDS issues.

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Non-Denominational, Unaffiliated Local
Christian churches are on the path to glory too. Reality LA (yes, that's the name) -- now based out of the auditorium at Helen Bernstein High School (1309 N. Wilton Place) -- has drawn Joe Jonas and other born-agains in the business with a church band of an indie-rock bent, while another place of worship in Hollywood, the media-savvy, Baptist-derived Mosaic church (7107 Hollywood Blvd.), also boasts an industry following; it managed to win a contest to get an ad broadcast during the 2010 Super Bowl. Also trending toward hip is the 3,000-strong Oasis (5100 Wilshire Blvd.), which draws Viola Davis, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green (as well as a welter of aspiring actors) for sermons at its Art Deco-styled theater space along the Miracle Mile. Its sidewalk entrance is marked by a copycat Hollywood Walk of Fame star dedicated to "Jesus Christ -- The Son of God."