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
Clearly, Reverend Karen practices what she preaches.