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 date back over 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 as well as Walter Arties and the Breath of Life Quartet.
After hearing convicting sermons about the Sabbath and end-time prophecies night after night, over 130 souls accepted the message and were baptized. These new believers were initially organized as the “BOL Company” under the interim pastorate of Elder William 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 Elder Leslie Pollard became the company’s first pastor.
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, Terri Tucker, AnnMarie Gentry and later on Yris Glasgow (now deceased), Otyvee Dyer and several others.
Over the years, a number of ministers led the church through thick and thin. The pastoral succession after Pastor Pollard was: Adolphus Garnett, Glenn Howell, (Rockne Dahl, interim), Homer Hart, Al Smith, Dr. James L. Kyle, (T. Marshall Kelly, interim), Don McPhaull, Michael S. Jenkins, and currently Eugene J. Hamilton.
The church’s history proved challenging, plagued by membership instability and wild fluctuations due to all sorts of circumstances. In the ’90s, Sabbath attendance 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 extended. The conference was prepared to shut the doors and urged the “Breath of Life Quintet” to join the nearby Delaware Church.
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 . . . 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. They struck a deal with the conference to remain functioning if the saints could pay the bills and send the tithe. By God’s grace, this was done.
Meanwhile, local ministers were called, seeking their help to hold the church together. Most declined and only promised to “pray for the flock.” However, God had a “ram in the thicket” in the person of Rockne Dahl, pastor of the Santa Monica Church. Driven by compassion, this Anglo minister stepped forward and pastored the small African-American flock as if it were his own . . . all while pastoring his own church. The saints adored him for his labor of love, which effectively averted BOL’s extinction and paved the way for brighter days ahead.
That day arrived in 1997 when Dr. James Kyle was assigned to pastor the church, assisted initially by Associate Pastor Walter Arties, and later 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 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. Who would have imagined that this once-ailing church (virtually on a respirator) could make such a full, dramatic recovery and celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2002 with over a thousand well-wishers.
Pastor D.L. McPhaull succeeded Dr. Kyle 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 continued to grow and become 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 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.
However, after much due diligence, prayer, and fasting, an ambitious offer was ultimately made and negotiated on the Inglewood property that BOL inhabits today. On December 9, 2009, escrow closed. Just three months later on March 27th in the church’s 27th year, hundreds gathered to dedicate this 27,000-square-foot property during BOL’s weeklong “Bless This House” celebration.
Under Pastor McPhaull’s leadership, Breath of Life continued to flourish in spiritual growth and financial stability. Community Services Leader Antonette Simpson opened a Food Bank, which has become second-to-none with a vibrant homeless feeding ministry, clothing thrift operation, and community Bible studies.
Pastor McPhaull was succeeded by Pastor Michael S. Jenkins, Jr., who was installed in 2012 along with Associate Pastor Eustace Laurie and Associate for Pastoral Care Dr. Roger Frazier. Under Pastor Jenkins’ tenure, the BOL campus underwent a major renovation effort, with the remodeling of the Fellowship Hall and kitchen, a new west lobby entrance, repaved parking lot, pastoral offices, AC/heating system installation, and major infrastructure replacement. In 2013, Pastor Courtney Ray joined the pastoral team as associate/youth pastor. She was the first African-American woman ordained into the SDA gospel ministry in the Pacific Union.
In May 2017, BOL welcomed its ninth and current pastor, Eugene J. Hamilton from Charleston, SC. Already he has begun setting the bar for innovative ministry with emphasis on community outreach and evangelism as well as congregational nurturing.
Indeed for over three decades, God has blessed Breath of Life immensely and continues to guide us to fulfill His purpose in the lives of our members and the community at large. Thanks be to God!