L.A. is a land of pilgrims and devotees, believers and seekers, sinners and diviners. This is the city where an African American preacher named William J. Seymour helped launch Pentecostalism in 1906 with his Azusa Street Revival in the future Little Tokyo, and it’s where tens of thousands of migrants from across Latin America feel the same holy spirit in their storefront Pentecostal churches today. It’s where Jacob Frankfort arrived in 1841, the first Jew in a city that would eventually become the country’s second-largest bastion of Judaism. And it’s where more than 100 other religions are practiced by a population whose roots stretch around the globe.
That so many faiths can prosper here is itself a reason for the disillusioned to have faith in humanity—and in Los Angeles, a metropolitan area so big and complicated that it may as well be a hemisphere writ small. While other parts of the world are riven by spiritual divisions, it’s the sheer compression of religious practice in the region that unites. Because whether you speak in tongues or prostrate yourself toward Mecca, drink the blood of Christ or swear by the power of crystals, you can be sure there are countless people around you who invest the same faith in and show the same deference to a belief system other than your own. Sameness in difference—it’s a beautiful thing, and one more reason why we Angelenos should count our blessings.
House of Worship
A shrine to the Virgin Mary resides in front of an apartment house on Bonnie Brae Street near 3rd.
Katerick Lash (fourth from left) rehearses in Koreatown with other men and women in the nondenominational Trans Chorus of Los Angeles. After being marginalized by mainstream religions, many members regard the chorus as spiritual practice. “It’s an amazing support system that I’m thankful for every day,” says Lash.
Scripture is recited during the full moon service in the main shrine. “It’s the 15th day of the lunar month,” says temple director Man Kuang. “The first day is the new moon. These two days are very special in the Chinese lunar calendar.” Situated on 15 acres in Hacienda Heights, the temple was founded by Hsing Yun, who established the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order in Taiwan in 1967.
Congregants bring their personal style to the Sunday service at the South L.A. church, whose origins date to 1917. “My assistants and I set up a makeshift photo studio by tenting an area in the parking lot adjacent to the main hall,” says photographer Joe Pugliese. “We probably photographed 150 parishioners over the course of a few hours. My hand cramped up from the nonstop pace of the morning.”
During Ramadan (June 5 to July 5 this year), Nadia Hamud, a 20-year-old El Camino College student, visited the Culver City mosque three to four times a week for the extra night prayers known as Taraweeh. Above her, congregants recite Isha, which begins before Taraweeh.
A Hillsong L.A. “worship team” performs songs during the 11 a.m. Sunday service at the Belasco Theater downtown. Founded in Sydney, Australia, the Pentecostal megachurch started a congregation here in 2014 with lead pastor Ben Houston. Today it has churches in 15 countries.
Nuns gather at the Self-Realization Fellowship’s international headquarters, which Paramahansa Yogananda established on Mount Washington in 1925. Having taken their final renunciant vows as part of the ancient Swami order of India, the women each bear a monastic Sanskrit name and the title “Sister.” Yogananda based his teachings on what the fellowship describes as “the original Christianity of Jesus Christ and the original Yoga of Bhagavan Krishna.”
Located near Hollywood in the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital since 1977, the Church of Scientology’s headquarters is referred to by members as Pacific Area Command. “Knowing it would be hard to get access inside the building,” says photographer Maarten de Boer, “I used a drone shot to present it in an impartial way.”
Jitender Singh, a priest at the Hollywood Sikh Temple, waves the ceremonial whisk known as a chaur sahib over the guru granth sahib, the sacred scripture of Sikhism.
Girls ages 8 to 13 strike a pose in Woodland Hills between bouts of rehearsing “Bho Shambho” and “Samsaararnava,” a pair of classic Indian dances that honor the god Shiva and express the joy of the creation of the universe. “Each gesture has a spiritual significance that directs the flow of energy into the body and mind while performing,” says their instructor, Guru Sushma Mohan.
Part Of The Flock
Bearing the processional cross while acolytes carry torches, 18-year-old Vanessa Machock is the crucifer during Sunday service in Pasadena. She was 11 when she began attending the Episcopal sanctuary. Set in a Gothic revival space, the house of worship began blessing same-sex unions in 1991 and has championed the ordination of female priests for decades.
Cameroon expat Stephane Fonkam, 26, is baptized by associate pastor T.C. Moore (left) and lead pastor Kevin Haah in downtown’s Spring Arts Tower basement. “During the baptism, I felt like I was solidifying and publicly declaring the fact that I’m a Christian,” says Fonkam, who’s attended New City Church since April.
The Head and the Heart
Now that he’s been bar mitzvahed, Yanky Hanoka is old enough to join the small group of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews his father, Rabbi Chaim Hanoka, leads. Most mornings at 6:30 the men put on tefillin: They wrap their arms with leather straps, binding their emotions and intellect to God, before reading from their prayer books. The black boxes on the head and biceps hold Hebrew parchment scrolls.
From on High
As many as 3,500 Korean families belong to St. Basil, a landmark on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown, but the Catholic church also hosts 1,100 Filipino families, along with several hundred Caucasian and Latino families. Dedicated in 1969, the building was designed by A.C. Martin and Associates and features 15 floor-to-ceiling window sculptures by midcentury artist Claire Falkenstein, who abandoned the idea of flat panes to create gemstone-like clusters of colored glass. Lilian Yoon plays organ during a Korean-language Mass. “It’s a very classic, very holy feeling when we have Mass,” says congregant Helen Tokko. “I’m the conductor, so I’m in the back; the windows are especially beautiful there.”
A Quiet Corner
Born Again Christians Tamra Dollar and 13-year-old daughter Chloe visit the Leavey Interfaith Center during a nine-day hospital stay. “It’s a place where you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital,” says Tamra. They make frequent trips to the facility from Bakersfield to help treat Chloe’s rare immune disorder.
Evangelical parishioners give themselves over to the Sunday morning service in the historic Lincoln Theater on Central Avenue in South L.A. “It was moving,” says photographer Hussein Katz, “to see how passionately they felt a connection to God during the service, which had a live band with singers.”