Malibu Presbyterian debuts new sanctuary

Malibu Presbyterian Church held its first worship services in its new sanctuary Sunday, more than five years after a fire roared through Malibu Canyon and destroyed the congregation’s previous church building. 

Rev. Greg Hughes, the church’s pastor for 12 years, said it is exciting to have a new house of worship finally constructed in the same spot on the hill at 324 Malibu Canyon Road overlooking central Malibu. 

“It is an intimate, warm feeling,” he said. “People love it. It’s friendlier, inviting.” 

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The new two- s tor y, 17,000-square-foot church building has an updated design featuring a balcony, is built of fire resistant materials and is valued at a reported $10 million. While the former church building used to face the hillside, the new one faces the ocean. 

Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. and 11:11 a.m. services featured songs, Hughes’ sermon and worshippers in awe of the church’s new home. The services, which came four days after a Wednesday night prayer dedication at the church, were a celebration of progress after a long road of uncertainty. 

On Oct. 21, 2007, the canyon fire tore through the hills of Malibu and scorched 4,500 acres of land, burning down more than 21 buildings. Among them was the original Malibu Presbyterian Church building, which was 63 years old. 

After initially thinking the church would not be touched by the wind-infused fire, Hughes said he watched the church burn down on television. 

“It was completely surreal and horrifying to see,” he said. 

Jill Love, who has attended the church since 1998, said she was eating breakfast with her husband, Luke, and fellow members of the church’s worship team when she learned the building she was married in was destroyed. 

“It was crazy to think the place I had so many memories [of] was gone,” she said. “It took a while to accept that and that we were going to be nomads for a while.” 

With their church building gone, members of Malibu Presbyterian began a half-decade of moving from facility to facility to hold different church functions, meetings and worship services. 

Hughes said officials at places such as Malibu City Hall, Webster Elementary School, and the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue allowed the church to use their sites while the new sanctuary was being built. 

“We are very thankful for what we had and the hospitality of the community,” he said. 

Richard “Dick” Keller, a Malibu Presbyterian member for 38 years, said the support the church received from the community was unbelievable. 

“The fire hadn’t even completely gone out, and the Jewish synagogue contacted our nursery school teacher and said, ‘We will help you.’” he said. 

Keller said despite not having a permanent church home from the winter of 2007 until this month, the members of Malibu Presbyterian showed that a physical structure is not needed to keep a church family together. 

“Not only did we stay together, but I think we grew,” said Keller. “It shows how adversity sometimes can help you to be stronger.” 

Construction on the new sanctuary began in Nov. 2011. With all major construction done on the sanctuary, work crews are focusing on completing phase two of the church’s reconstruction, the assembly of another building, which will include a fellowship hall, church offices and classrooms, Hughes said. The price tag on that structure, which is hoped to be completed by Jan. 2014, ranges from $4.5 to $5 million. Phase three of reconstruction, which still requires approval from the California Coastal Commission, is a community center and youth room. 

Hughes said the sanctuary’s rebirth shows that God is good. 

“God is in the restoration business,” he said. “We want to continue what we’ve talked about. We want to connect people to God. What our church has done in the past 60 years, we want to continue to do the next 60 years.” 

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