19 March 2011

[pdx] A Church I Did Not Expect To Find In Portland

2587.Those who know me well and deeply know of an abiding, bordering on morbid, interest in spiritual salespeople, especially those of that uniquely American institution, the electronic church.

Something is incredibly distracting about a televangelist plying his televised wares - though, it must be said, not so much so that I'd actually start buying what they're selling.

America has borne more than her share of such amusements, from the sublime to the gross - usually gross. Of them all, though, and still the most unique and certainly the most entertaining, was pastor Dr. Gene Scott (1-800-338-3030), the Big, Absurd Man of God. This was Dr Gene Scott:

Dr Scott

To say Gene Scott was a character was lame praise. He was larger than life, almost larger than himself. He did nothing in a small way. All one had to do was watch five minutes of one of his programs, seated leaning back in his chair, like some Picassoesque version of William F. Buckley, teaching scripture in terms nobody ever thought to do (Robin Williams once had it "I will now compare and contrast God and Spider-Man", and that's not far off the mark) cutting to a Gospel choir, and yelling Get on them phones! when calling for contributions, and you were either enthralled or converted.

He certainly was the most self-confident of all tv preachers. His teaching, take-it-or-leave-it, was the most amazing amalgam of the cerebral and the absurd there's ever been. His act, and not for trying by various modern exponents of the faith, has never been successfully followed.

He also lived life as big and loud as his preaching. His ministerial career brought him great wealth, none of which he was ever the least bit abashed about; he lived large, got large, and showed off his posessions with relish. A segment of his satellite-distributed show could just as likely be about his stable of thoroughbred horses as it might have been about the Bible. And he never apologized about it or made some excuse about how God somehow wanted him to have it, so far as I can recall; life rewarded him well for what he did, and he enjoyed it.

But toward the end of his life, his teaching style toned down a great deal, and he and his new wife as of 2000, Melissa, gave scholarly sermons with the tone of a college lecture at his aptly-named Los Angeles University Cathedral (well, not the cathedral part anyway). Dr Scott himself passed away at age 75 back in 2005. Pastor Melissa has carried on the work ever since, but without the panache of the Good Doctor himself, watching a Scott broadcast lost its ironic fun, and I moved on.

Though it must be said, if more pastors were as pulchritudinous as Melissa Scott, you wouldn't find young men getting bored with church, maybe.

Now, The Wife™ understands my proclivities in this wise, and spotted something in SE Portland that she thought I would find interesting:

"Did you know there's a Gene Scott Memorial Church over by Hawthorne?"

No, I didn't. That Gene Scott?

"The sign also says Pastor Melissa Scott."

Well. I'm hooked!

This last weekend, we found it. It's an old SE church, tucked away in one of the inner 'hoods, at the corner of SE 32nd Avenue and Taylor Street. Here it is in Google Maps Street View:

Dr Gene Scott University Chapel

It's a very attractive building, obviously having been home to more than one congregation over the years. The little brown sign there, at the corner, is the smoking gun.

University Chapel Sign

Dr. Gene Scott. University Chapel. Pastor Melissa Scott.

I suppose there may be more than one combination of the three bits of nomenclature above that would indicate some other formation of Scotts and chapel, but life has taught me that that's not the way to bet.
As big as the Scott's personalities were, it amazes me that we didn't hear more about it. But that's also life for you. And as it appears the building is up for sale, we can conclude safely that there won't be much more of a presence in PDX for the Wild Man of God, or his wife.

Dr Gene Scott, where ever you are … I salute you, sir. You always were a unique act. We could use more like you. At least for entertainment's sake.


Snowbrush said...

Here's to entertainment--just so long as poor suckers don't give away what little money they have in the hope of winning the favor of Jesus.

John D said...

I live a few blocks from this church, we just commented about how we'd never noticed it on our walk home today. I just now coincidentally read this post. I kinda want to go down and worship tomorrow morning...
I remember watching Dr. Scott years ago, with his bikini clad posse riding their bikes along the waterfront, or riding horses around his compound, always with him smoking a big cigar. The joys of satellite television. That's my kind of religion!

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

@ Snowbrush: agreed in toto, but at least when Gene took your money, he didn't seem to imply it did any more than pay for his lifestyle and kept him on the air teaching.

I could be wrong about that of course, I only really watched regularly his stuff that was broadcast over Salem's Channel 22 in the mid-to-late 80s.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

@ John D: Yeah, that fellow saw no contradiction in preaching and teaching Salvation and living a downright sybaritic lifestyle. There's not been a preacher like him since or before, and I don't expect to see one.

Since there is a For Sale sign, I wonder if there's services there anymore. I saw, on a website here, that they (at least once) let out the space for day functions (http://www.portland-catering.com/portland/venues/university-chapel.html) and the Dandy Warhols played a show there once (http://www.dandywarhols.com/news/pics-university-chapel-portland/). Since LA University Chapel and the Scott ministry have always been heavy into high tech and satellite I'll bet if there is a service, you'll probably find that the service consists of watching Pastor Melissa on a screen … however, I'm spitballing here. If you do go, I'd be keen to find out what you found!

Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit of an old post, so forgive me for my intrusion. :)

I just read about the sale of this church building to Mars Hill Church as another satellite campus for their main location in Seattle. When I saw the image of this building, I was curious to see if I could find out who the previous occupants had been. All I had to go by was that name plate you have a photo of, and did some Googling of the Scotts, and eventually ran across your blog here.

Needless to say, I think this building will be put to much better use under Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church than under the Pastors Scott. He's got some excellent teaching...check him out if you want some unconventional, radical departure from the boring traditions that American evangelicalism has become today. But when I say unconventional and radical, I mean it's closer to what Jesus taught 2000 years ago than I've heard in a very long time from any church, and is quite a breath of fresh air!

Anyway, you may have already heard this news about who owns the building now, and I haven't said anything you didn't already know. But just in case... :)

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Well, I'm glad that my writing helped you answer a question that you had. I love it when I do that for people.

I looked up Mark Driscoll and what he preaches … well, maybe he has a good marketing machine, and maybe he has his own style, but there's nothing really new there. Preaching against same-sex marriage and femal subjugation is as old as the hills. And I appreciate his sincerity … gosh, is he ever concerned … about the only thing that Portland needs to be saved from is inept government. I don't think he can help us there.

Though pastors such as Rick Warren and Jentezen Franklin should be wary. He gonna roll over them!