History of Bel Air Presbyterian Church

In 1946, the Church Extension Board of the Los Angeles Presbytery approved a tentative location for a new church to be built in the community of Bel Air. The plans to develop this ministry and site lay dormant until September, 1955, when the Presbytery responded to the growth of Bel Air and asked the Rev. Louis H. Evans, Jr. to serve as organizing pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church. The first meeting of 51 people was held in the manse on April 8, 1956. On September 30, 1956, the congregation called the Rev. Dr. Evans to be its pastor, and he served until 1963.

While the congregation met in the Bellagio Road School, work on the church building began in October, 1956, and the rock blasting and grading work took seven and a half months. Construction began on an award-winning chapel and on a Christian education building in October, 1959. On December 4, 1960, a happy throng of people crowded into the doors for two services. Soon, three services each Sunday morning were required, and these continued until the church moved into its present sanctuary in September, 1991.

The Rev. Theodore S. Nissen joined the staff in September, 1959 as Designated Minister of Education, and a year later he was installed in a new position as Associate Pastor until 1964. The Rev. John Chambers was invited to serve as Interim Pastor until the Rev. Donn Moomaw was called in December, 1964. Dr. Moomaw lead the congregation until 1993.

Rev. Thomas Carr joined the pastoral staff in 1965, serving as Minister of Christian Education until 1968. The Rev. Deane Hendricks was called as Minister of New Life from 1966 until 1971. The Rev. William Norris served as part time Minister to Students from 1968 until 1970. The Rev. Dr. Robert Lazear, Jr. served Bel Air as Minister of Mission from 1970-1971, and again from 1973-1976. The Rev. Kenneth Working, Jr. who had served the church as a seminary student and was ordained here in 1972, became Minister of Mission, and later served as Minister of Education and Administration until 1977. The Rev. Howard F. M. Childers joined the staff as Minister of Parish Life in 1972, serving until 1974.

In 1974, membership grew to 1757. In order to accommodate the number of worshippers, a south wing, balcony, and educational lounge were added to the Bel Air plant. In 1977 the Christian Service Center was completed, and the church staff offices were moved out of the Christian Education Building to an administration building.

The Rev. Phil Hawtin was called as Minister of Visitation from 1976 until 1986. In 1978, the Rev. Frank Alton joined the staff as Pastor of Mission and Evangelism, serving until 1985. The Rev. Taylor Hill served as Pastor of Parish Life from 1978 until 1980. The Rev. Kenton Smith joined the staff as Pastor of Pastoral Care in 1981, serving until 1990. In 1982, the Rev. Gary Wilburn became Assistant Pastor in charge of lay training, later serving as Senior Associate Pastor. He left in 1987.

In 1983, the decision was made to proceed with plans for a 1600-seat sanctuary to be constructed on the middle parking lot. Groundbreaking was held in 1988, and on September 6, 1991, the new sanctuary was dedicated.

In 1983 the Rev. Elizabeth Nordquist joined the staff as Bel Air’s first woman pastor after being a candidate under care during her seminary training. She served in the area of worship and community life until 1988. The Rev. Steven Marsh was called as Pastor of Student Ministries in June, 1985, serving until 1992. In 1986, the Rev. Carolyn Crawford became Pastor of Christian Education and Nurture. She continues to serve the staff today in the area of Congregational Life and Caring Ministries.

The Rev. Dr. John (Jack) Springer was called as Pastor of Discipleship and Worship in March, 1990, serving until 1998. Also in 1990, Robert Henley began serving as Assistant to the Pastor of Congregational Care while completing the requirements for serving in the PC(USA) denomination. He was installed as Associate Pastor of Congregational Care and Evangelism in 1992, serving until 1993. The Rev. Dr. Paul Pierson was called to serve as interim pastor when Dr. Moomaw resigned as head of staff in 1993, and he served for two years.

On January 17, 1994, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Los Angeles area at 4:31 a.m. Damage to the church facilities was extensive. A pipe connected to the sprinkler system in the new sanctuary burst and caused major damage to the Casavant organ, and cracks and broken windows were widespread. The sanctuary was classified to be unsafe, and worship services resumed in Evans Chapel. Repair work commenced immediately and extended over a two-year period.

The Rev. Brad Calhoun served the staff for a brief time in 1994, leaving in early 1995. In March of 1995, the Rev. Dr. Robert Bos was called on a part-time basis to help with visitation, serving until 1998.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Wenning was called as pastor in August, 1995, and he served until his retirement in 2001. The Rev. Roger Dermody, Jr. was called as Associate Pastor of Missions and Students in 1997, having served the church as College Director during his seminary training. He served on staff as Executive Pastor until 2010. The Rev. Daryl Fisher-Ogden joined the staff in 1998, serving for a year as Pastor of Adult Education and Fellowship. The Rev. Brenda Mitchell joined the staff as Acting Associate Pastor of Caring Ministries in October, 2000 and was later called as Pastor of Caring Ministries, serving until June, 2008.

In June, 2001, the congregation called the Rev. Dr. Mark Brewer as Pastor. During his tenure, membership in the church has grown to over 3000. George Hinman served as Pastor of Discipleship from 2004–2008. In 2005, the Rev. Kimberlee Dorr-Tilley was installed as the church’s first Designated Pastor to the Entertainment Industry, having been a candidate under care of the church during her seminary training. She was installed as Pastor to the Entertainment Industry in 2008. The Rev. Elias Dantas served as Pastor of Outreach from 2005 until 2007.

Bel Air Presbyterian Church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006, and many former pastors and staff members were invited to return for events during the year. Because of the construction of the Discipleship Center and Christian Education and Administration buildings, and the celebration of the church’s 50th anniversary, permission was given for the church to hold one Easter service at the Hollywood Bowl. Over 9000 people attended, beginning an annual tradition. Construction was completed in June, 2007, and the site dedicated in September. The Rev. Enock De Assis first joined the staff as Director of Outreach, then became Pastor of Outreach from 2008 to 2014. The Rev. Keenan Barber serves as the Pastor of Youth and Young Adult Discipleship.

A partnership with Union Presbyterian Church downtown was formed in 2008, and a monthly contemporary worship service called The Bridge was launched in October, with weekly worship beginning at Easter, 2009. In July, 2011, the Rev. Tim Yee was installed as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church, and he took over the leadership of the Bridge, continuing in partnership with Bel Air on a sliding scale for five years.

A second church plant was launched in the South Bay in January, 2010, and called Water's Edge. In July, 2011, Bill Crawford was installed as Pastor to Water's Edge, and the congregation began meeting weekly.

In November 2012, Rev. Dr. Mark Brewer stepped down as Senior Pastor to start a Seminary in Colorado.

In January 2013, Rev. Dr. Dave McKechnie started at Bel Air Pres. as our Interim Senior Pastor.

In April 2014, our Pastor Nominating Committee brought forth the unanimously decided candidate for Pastor and Head of Staff, Rev. Dr. Drew Sams. Learn more about Pastor Sams. After his candidating sermon, Pastor Drew was voted in by our congregation on April 13, 2014 at our Annual Congregational Meeting. He started preaching full-time on April 27, 2014. Welcome our new Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Drew Sams.