EAST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. – Though La Canada and East Hollywood are only 15 miles from each other geographically the two communities are, in many ways, worlds apart. This is what drew Kim Gilmore from La Canada Presbyterian Church, where she grew up, to a gritty East Hollywood neighborhood. That and God’s call, of course.
Gilmore moved to East Hollywood in 2009 after graduating from USC and sensing a desire to be involved in her faith in a more hands-on way than simply attending worship on a given Sunday.
The ministry that she connected with in East Hollywood, born from the established Hollywood Church, is focused around a missional community that meets each Sunday evening. Neighbors and friends are always welcome to come to that gathering, but the real place of encounter for Gilmore and the others is out in the community — at the park, on the streets, in the neighborhood.
It’s a calling that comes naturally to Gilmore — an avid basketball player who played in high school and was on the intramural team at USC. After graduation she wanted to continuing playing basketball — and it just so happens that she lives down the street from the local community park.
“It’s me and a bunch of guys,” Gilmore laughs, noting that not many women play pickup basketball. But it’s actually something that seems to work well for Gilmore.
“I’m much more noticeable because of that,” she continued. Not only is she the only girl, but she is also the only white girl on the court in the primarily Latino neighborhood. “I’m recognized even if people don’t know my name.”
Last summer she and the members of the missional community took it one step further and organized a basketball tournament at the park. Gilmore promoted the event around the park and encouraged regulars to invite their friends to play.
“It was a real neat way to bless the community — many of whom have never played basketball,” shared Gilmore. “I’ve enjoyed using the ability that God has given me to help build the community there.”
Though fun is definitely in the mix for Gilmore, it is not just “fun and games.”
“Part of why we are in that neighborhood is that we have a strong emphasis on moving into the city and tangibly loving our neighbors — to live as missionaries in the city and hopefully transform it for Christ,” shared Gilmore.
Basketball, hopes Gilmore, is laying the foundation for something more. “We are hoping someday to plant a church,” she shared. Though it is a church that might not look like “church” as we’ve always known it.
“It is not necessarily going to have a building and look like a traditional service,” she admitted. Their hope is to continue meeting at the park or in homes where people can feel comfortable and do not feel pressure to conform to a Christian culture – which can seem like a foreign environment for many.
“We are learning a lot about how to love people where they are and not expect them to change instantaneously,” Gilmore shared. “We are learning to walk alongside them and grow with them as they mature in their faith.”
ERIN DUNIGAN is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico, when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.