Written by Clarence Brown and presented by Greer Bosworth at the dedicatory service for the Breath of Life Worship Center on Sabbath, March 27, 2010
The historical journey of the Breath of Life Seventh-day Adventist Church is a profile of courage, faith and perseverance. It is an amazing saga of a small but spiritually mighty core of believers who shared great hopes and aspirations only to encounter near-extinction. This congregation’s humble beginnings stem back nearly 30 years when the Breath of Life Telecast team launched a month-long evangelistic campaign at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College Auditorium in the spring of 1982. The evangelist was none other than Breath of Life Director and Speaker, Charles D. Brooks, who was an Adventist icon in winning souls to Christ and to the Advent message. He was supported by a dynamic pastoral team that included Elders William DeShay, Wendell Nelson, Lorenzo Paytee, Reginald Robinson, and Earl Canson, as well as a team of Bible workers, local volunteers from area churches, and the Breath of Life Telecast team, composed of Walter Arties and the Breath of Life Quartet.
After hearing convicting sermons about the Sabbath and end-time events by Elder Brooks night after night, over 130 souls accepted the message and were baptized into the Adventist fellowship. These new believers were initially organized as the “BOL Company” under the interim pastorate of Elder DeShay. Other evangelists soon followed and added converts to the fledgling company. Responding to their immediate need for a place to worship, Elder Gregory Allen, pastor of the Mid-City SDA Church, opened his doors temporarily while a ministerial committee searched for a more permanent home. That place would be the Culver-Palms United Methodist Church in Culver City, and the company’s first pastor would be Elder Leslie Pollard, who had just completed the SDA Theological Seminary.
On February 26, 1983, the BOL Company was officially inducted into the sisterhood of churches in the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The congregation was named Breath of Life Seventh-day Adventist Church with 103 members, including some of the leaders and faces we recognize today: Gloria and Arlene Hope, Antonette Simpson, Joyce Swink, AnnMarie Gentry and later on Yris Glasgow, Otyvee Dyer and many others.
According to their recollection, BOL’s early days under Pastor Leslie & Prudence Pollard were tantamount to falling in love for the first time. The zeal and excitement of new believers on fire for God was rather euphoric, almost addictive. They just couldn’t get enough of each other. And like a close-knit, loving family, they cared for each other in the same manner as the early apostolic church. They hated for the Sabbath to end, and couldn’t wait for the next Sabbath to arrive so they could enjoy more good times together in worship and fellowship.
Over the years, a number of ministers led the church through thick and thin. After Pastor Pollard was a succession of ministers: Pastors Adolphus Garnett, Glenn Howell, Rockne Dahl, Homer Hart, Al Smith, Dr. James Kyle, T. Marshall Kelly, and our current Pastor, Don McPhaull. Most of the past 27 years was rather challenging, plagued by instability. Membership fluctuated wildly, due to all sorts of circumstances. Some members relocated for jobs, some transferred to other churches, a few died, and yes, quite a number became disillusioned and eventually apostatized. In the ’90s, membership dwindled exponentially to the teens. It became common practice for the work of many to fall on the shoulders of a few–a very few! Dutiful Ray Lewis was often the only deacon serving the church on a given Sabbath. Likewise it was not unusual for Joyce Swink to wear multiple hats, such as church clerk, social committee chair, and singles ministry leader. Antonette Simpson singlehandedly operated community services and even served a term as church treasurer—a job she concedes was outside her gifts. And then there was Gloria Hope, who served as head deaconess for over 20 years and also as a treasurer functioning outside her comfort zone.
By this time, Sabbath attendance at BOL had dissipated to only five—yes five— faithful saints, assembled on a single pew in the large sanctuary of Culver-Palms. No pastor was assigned to lead them, and there were “no takers” when pastoral calls were issued. The conference was prepared to shut the doors and urged the “Breath of Life Quintet” to join the nearby Delaware Church. Ministers and friends from other churches joined the chorus to shut down and merge.
But BOL wasn’t having it! Sister Hope voiced the will of the saints in no uncertain terms: “No way! This is GOD’s church, and whatever HE says, we will do. He will NOT see us go down!” In her defiant response, Sister Hope became an icon for courage, conviction and determination as the “Rosa Parks of BOL,” who refused to give up her pew in the face of adversity. With bold resolve, this small but persistent flock banded together and mounted an effective layman’s effort to keep the doors of BOL open.
The conference ultimately backed off and cut a deal with one mandatory stipulation: If BOL could pay its bills, it could stay open. And the handful of saints did just that—opened their hearts and wallets and somehow paid the bills and sent a faithful tithe. To help lessen the saints’ financial burden, Culver-Palms even reduced their rent.
Meanwhile, Joyce Swink personally called local ministers, seeking their help to hold the church together. Most declined and others said they could only “pray for the flock.” However, God had a “ram in the thicket” in the person of Rockne Dahl, the Anglo pastor of the Santa Monica Church. Driven by compassion, he stepped forward and pastored the faithful as if BOL were his own. With conference blessing but without additional compensation, he performed double duty—conducting Sabbath morning worship at BOL at 9:30 and then hurrying to his pulpit to speak at 11. During the week, he hooked up with Sister Hope and others to visit former members who were sick or just didn’t attend church any longer. Charles Nugent, who was the head elder at the Ephesus Church, gave additional pastoral support, conducting prayer meeting in Sister Hope’s home.
Though Elder Dahl served in a “quasi” capacity, he effectively was BOL’s pastor in every impactful way that mattered . . . and the members deeply loved him and his wife, Sonja. Indeed he was God’s man whose labor of love averted BOL’s virtual extinction and paved the way for brighter days ahead.
That day arrived in 1997 when Dr. Kyle was assigned to pastor the church, assisted initially by Walter Arties, and later on by Kendall White. Pastor Kyle often recounts the amusing description of his first day at BOL: “There were just about a dozen people attending the service,” he notes, “and I brought half of them in my car!”
During his seven-year tenure, weekly Sabbath attendance soared to 300, with a refreshing infusion of young adults and families. Many transferred in while others were baptized through public evangelistic campaigns, personal evangelism, and by profession of faith. With additional resources and talents, leadership responsibilities could now be more widely distributed. Our music ministry, for example, flourished abundantly, under the leadership of Jerry Warren, who became a “Pied Piper” of sorts, recruiting others to experience the “new BOL.” The Sabbath School became more robust and reenergized under Sheila Frazier. Community Services had never been more active and expanded under Antonette Simpson. The pastoral team was strengthened by the nurturing and godly counsel of Associate Pastor Roger Frazier. Angelo Robinson set the bar and mentored a line of young successors for deacon ministry. And youth leadership was recast and recharged by the team of Kelli Dulan, Ron Brathwaite and Jennifer Noble. Women’s Ministries—under first lady Joyce Kyle and later Louraine Meyers and Sheila Frazier—soared to new heights. And Dr. Gwen Flagg and Sister Hope co-wrote a new prescription for health ministries.
Tithe and offerings increased in synch with membership growth. Not surprisingly, that attracted the conference’s attention and caused them to marvel at the “little engine that could.” Who would have imagined that this ailing church, once gasping for breath on a respirator, could make such a full, dramatic recovery! It was truly a divine miracle worth celebrating . . . and the church did just that on the milestone occasion of BOL’s 20th anniversary in 2002 at a packed venue in Carson, where over a thousand well-wishers praised God for honoring the faith of the handful who stood on His promises.
BOL soon afterwards garnered broader notoriety as the “in” place to go—which didn’t resonate well with the pastor and members, who wanted no association with such a trendy image. “Christ-centeredness” and “service-oriented” were our intended hallmarks and focus.
A fter losing Dr. Kyle unexpectedly to an academic calling in 2004, BOL was emotionally devastated. However, the Lord sent a healing balm in Gilead—in the person of Pastor T. Marshall Kelly—to hold us together and reenergize our spirits. His nurturing presence and the love he lavished upon the congregation led many to express that they felt “touched by an angel.” He continued to minister to us until the arrival of our current pastor, D.L. McPhaull, in 2005.
By this time, BOL still did not have a place to call home. All along, the congregation had been renting church facilities—starting with Culver-Palms United Methodist Church, then Our Savior Lutheran Church, and lastly Westchester Christian Church. As the congregation became more active and engaged, it became increasingly difficult to operate existing ministries and establish new ones without having flexible access to the rented property. From the first day Pastor McPhaull arrived, he set as his top priority the acquisition of a church home for BOL. This proved to be a more daunting task than anyone imagined, given the congregation’s desire to retain a flourishing Adventist witness on the west side of the L.A. basin, and the economic realities of purchasing property in such an expensive real estate market. There were several efforts made and much scouting conducted by our church search committee, headed initially by Elder Nathan Lewis and later by Brent Hart.
However, after much due diligence, prayer, and fasting, an ambitious offer was ultimately made and negotiated on the property that we inhabit here today. Through divine intervention and guidance and through the sacrifice and generosity of our members and many, many friends, we were able to close escrow on December 9, 2009 on this wonderful campus, consisting of two major facilities and off-street parking accommodations for 150 cars. The church recently received the gift of a magnificent liturgical organ, which we dedicated earlier this month to the glory of God and to the memory of our former First Elder, Dr. Joel L. Jones. And just a few days ago, we installed this elegant new pulpit, also a generous, enduring gift from member donors and friends.
Under Pastor McPhaull’s leadership, Breath of Life continues to flourish in spiritual growth (with continuous baptisms, and the addition of Elder Patricia Williams-Harris as our new Bible Instructor) . . . in financial strength (as the conference’s top tithing church) . . . and in financial management under the leadership of Robin Warren and Goldson Brown . . . in musical and creative arts (with the addition of Hands of Praise ministry) . . . with a burgeoning Pathfinder Club & Drum Corps (which recently doubled its membership and is reaching out to community youth) . . . with a thriving outreach program under Carla Lindsay that’s out in the community cultivating relationships . . . a health ministries series by Adaire Brown that’s helping us live more abundantly . . . and with a model community service program, still under Antonette Simpson, that is second to none with a vibrant homeless feeding ministry, clothing thrift operation, community Bible studies, and a soon-to-open certified Food Bank.
And finally, Pastor McPhaull’s radio and webcast ministries continue to reach the masses on both coasts and are beginning to generate listener response to the messages focused on our church’s fundamental beliefs.
Indeed for nearly three decades, God has been with His people at Breath of Life as the proverbial Pillar of Fire, guiding us through the many ups and downs of the wilderness experience, and bringing us triumphantly to the Promised Land. Our wandering has finally ended with the gift of this marvelous church. Today, March 27th, in our 27th year, we gather to dedicate this 27,000-square-foot property during our Bless This House celebration. A new chapter begins as we renew our commitment to serve the Lord both within and beyond these sacred walls.
Thanks be to our God!
"We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord. Trusting in His holy Word, He's never failed us yet. Oh, can't turn around. We've come this far by faith!"