Church: Center of the Heart, 487 N. Turnpike Road
Service Attended: Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
Spiritual Leader: Rev. Karen Weingard
Denomination: United Church of Religious Science
Special Offerings: Meditation, Sun. 10 a.m.; Realizing Relationships class, Wed. 6:30 p.m., $10; spiritual counseling by appointment; Feel the Heartbeat drumming, singing, and dancing, 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month, 7 p.m.; Spa Day for women from local shelters, Aug. 25
Contact: centeroftheheart.com, 964-4861
The first impression one gets upon entering the Center of the Heart church (which Rev. Karen refers to as “our home”) is that every congregant is nearly bursting with joy to be there. As the congregants excitedly greeted one another with smiles and hugs, Rev. Karen went around the room to hug each congregant herself, catching up with old friends and introducing herself to new ones. Rev. Karen’s red satin dress and sequin earrings seemed to be one way she lives up to her core spiritual teaching, which is to “be big for God.” After we had taken our seats, Karen asked us how we were doing. “Awesome!” the congregation shouted.
A superficial glance around the room might evoke the description “New Age”-there were numerous long, flowing skirts and pastel paintings of women in nature-but it quickly became clear that this group of people and their method of worship defy any easy classification. Though the group was comprised primarily of middle aged women, it was also one of the most racially diverse churches I’ve attended in Santa Barbara.
We opened the appropriately titled “celebration services” with a song about saying yes to life, love, happiness, and prosperity. As soon as the keyboardist hit the first note, the congregation was on their feet, dancing and belting out, “I say Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, to Life!” Indeed, music played a huge role throughout the service, with a guest appearance by James Arnold (“The Big Man with the Big Voice”), whose soulful rendition of “A Song for You,” backed by the Center of the Heart’s full band, inspired Rev. Karen to speak to about love. “Do not hold back,” she said. “Give it all you’ve got. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll get hurt.”
Another theme throughout Rev. Karen’s talks was letting go. “Everything is up to be re-qualified and released if it’s not serving you,” she said, speaking of the scientific principle that energy is never created or destroyed. “It can only be re-qualified.” She urged congregants not to struggle to make difficult situations right, but rather to let go of anything that is not working for us. “Everything is in a tsunami,” she said. “If you resist letting go, you’re going to get caught in the undertow.”
She also focused on giving as a natural human urge, asking the children to bring one toy the following week for a child less fortunate than themselves and telling the story of her IHOP breakfast at 6 a.m. that morning, in which she had found herself dining alongside about 40 firefighters. “Now, that’s a good morning,” she joked, before explaining how she had picked up their tab in gratitude for their hard work.
In keeping with the Religious Science teaching that separation is an illusion, the congregation welcomed all new members by putting their hands on their hearts and saying to them, “We see you. We know you,” meaning that they saw us as a “unique, individualized expression of love,” as Science of Mind practitioner Sybil put it during an evocation. The earnestness behind the congregation’s words suggested that anyone would be accepted at Center of the Heart no matter what. This total lack of judgment was exhibited by a row of preteen boys who happily sang along with the songs, seemingly lacking the embarrassment characteristic of that age group. Similarly, all of the younger children were gathered in the center of the room at one point, where they listened attentively as we sang, “We love you just the way you are.”