Sermon Illustration #3—THE KINGDOM OF GOD MAKES AN IMPACT: Church Buys Porno Theatre

June 18, 2013

Topic: The Now and the Not-Yet of the Kingdom of God
Scripture: Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven
Source: Kent Richardson, “A History of First Presbyterian Church, Concord, California,” revised by David Stearns, FPCC website (scroll down to “Service”).

Fourteen years before my arrival as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Concord (California), the congregation had been dealing with a vexing problem. Situated just one block from Concord’s central square, the church had a rear property line in common with the Showcase Theatre. The art deco building faced the city square, and in its heyday was known as the Enean Theatre, a family-friendly movie house easily accessible by all. However, in the 1970s, the building’s owners leased it to another company that renamed it The Showcase and played pornographic movies within. Not only was it a moral bother to have an adult theatre adjacent to the church but a civic embarrassment, particularly as the theatre drew an unsavory crowd. The city plaza soon became a rundown haven for drunks and illicit activities.

For years, the church made several attempts to raise money to buy the theatre. But the price was too high, and their efforts were thwarted. In 1980, through a miracle (according to the elders of the church), the church was able to acquire $800,000 in financing and a down payment, and the owner was willing to come down in price to accept it, and the purchase deal was finally made.

Only one small problem: In the course of making this transaction, it was discovered that The Showcase held an unbreakable lease. So for almost three years, the church was the proud owner of a porn theatre, until that lease expired. The church possessed the deed to the building (“already”), but the devil occupied it (“not yet”), making headlines around the world. [An elder residing in Paris at the time brought home a French newspaper that carried the AP story.]

When the day of liberation finally arrived, the building was gutted and transformed into the Presbyterian Community Center. For several years the church staffed a fitness center and offered exercise classes to the community. By the time I got there in 1997, alternative formats were explored, and the building was ultimately leased to another (non-Presbyterian) church in search of worship space. The whole idea was to expand the real estate footprint of God’s Kingdom and bring light to the city.

And just as the visible presence of the Kingdom of God has a positive impact on a neighborhood or society, so the transformation of this building made a difference in municipal planning. Prior to this transformation, the city had been unable to muster the political and financial energy to renovate its central square, but after the porno theatre disappeared, the city invested over $1 million to completely redevelop Todos Santos Plaza. To this day, it is a very family-friendly place where two weekly Farmers’ Markets and summer concerts are held.

 

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3 Responses to “Sermon Illustration #3—THE KINGDOM OF GOD MAKES AN IMPACT: Church Buys Porno Theatre”

  1. John Kerr Says:

    Mary,
    I remember all of that from my student days and my early days in Kendall presbytery, but it’s great to hear about the outcome. May it be a parable to us all.
    John Kerr

  2. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary this is an amazing and wonderful story. It should give us all hope-through Christ the Church is capable of being part of the already. God is so good in his plans, it is just that sometimes, often, we must wait.

  3. dweidlich Says:

    Hi Mary,
    I don’t know how to contact you, so I’m leaving a comment. Are you interested in a part-time pastoral position in SF? If so, email me for more info.
    Thanks

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