by Monika Zemsky
You can’t miss Reverend Karen Weingard of Center of the Heart. A lithe woman in her 60s with the taut skin of someone half her age, she is a vision. She highlights her auburn hair with streaks of royal purple and crowns of dyed ostrich plumes or rhinestones. She gilds her clavicle with glitter. Her eyelids sparkle green and silver, her ears and nose with diamond studs. She wraps herself in vivid velvet and chiffon. “Live life BIG for God,” she exhorts, and, clearly, means it.
She comes by her exuberance honestly. Born in Brooklyn, she was diagnosed with polio at age 3, and told she would never walk. Undeterred, her parents moved their young family to the San Fernando Valley, where they heard about a doctor who worked miracles. Karen walked at 13, infused with an unwavering faith in God’s love. She hasn’t stopped running since.
And what a jaunt she’s had. Married to Norman Fell, Three’s Company’s Mr. Roper, for 20 years, she was privy to the seduction of Hollywood’s material excesses. While she enjoyed the opportunities they offered, her faith held her steady and humble. In addition to her duties as a Hollywood wife, mother, and geriatric therapist, she kept sight of her spiritual path. Searching for the transcendent, she studied with guru Ram Daas, and attended Spirit Rock in San Francisco and Malibu’s Self Realization Center. “For the great music,” she turned to Agape in Los Angeles and took all of its classes. At 60, she enrolled in Ministerial School, and was ordained in Science of Mind, a practice that espouses the power of positive thought.
Meanwhile, in her 40s, she became mother to a child with profound “unique” abilities: seizure disorder, microcephaly, cerebral palsy. Unbothered by others’ squeamishness, she embraced Kasey and the lessons his existence promised. “He has been my most profound teacher of unconditional love,” she says.
And unconditional love is her mandate for Center of the Heart’s congregation, or “family,” where everyone is accepted for who they are. In her two years as leader of Center of the Heart, she has made profound changes: She replaced the pews with comfortable chairs set in a circle; her “family’s” art hangs on the walls; Fellowship Hall is now called “The Party Place”; she introduced “Sparkle Sunday,” where everyone is invited to dress up, and “Spiritual Rock” — audience participation songs of love — into her maverick Sunday services.
Gone are the days of remote spiritual leadership — she hugs everyone in her path. She insists that the family voice all of its opinions explicitly, including complaints. At lunch after Sunday services, she unapologetically enjoys a healthy tipple or two.
By example she reminds everyone to celebrate the universe’s bounty, inviting them to empower themselves. “I give people permission to go out and risk being something they’ve always wanted to be. To live big. To live it up. To be it all out. Live joyously. Love mightily. Forgive generously. Be yourself. Be big for God.”
Clearly, Reverend Karen practices what she preaches.