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Where church, state aren't so separate

A burgeoning church catering to Peninsula residents rents out the old Newport Beach City Hall for services.

April 05, 2014|By Emily Foxhall | By Emily Foxhall
  • Roger and Becky Tirabassi are leading an effort to launch a church on the Balboa Peninsula. Currently, they meet in the old city hall.
Roger and Becky Tirabassi are leading an effort to launch… (Viewpoint Church )

The old Newport Beach council chambers, which have sat largely vacant for more than a year, came to life once again on a recent Sunday.

Mayor Rush Hill was not present to call the meeting to order. The voting buttons on the dais — "yes", "no" and "abs" — went unused.

About 5 p.m., two hours earlier than a City Council meeting usually starts, attendees began filing into the rows of auditorium-style chairs. But they didn't pick up copies of council agendas as they entered, nor did they come prepared with notes for public comment.

Toting Bibles, the group instead received outlines for a sermon. Clad in casual attire, they planned to hear about Christ's forgiveness, rather than consider dock fees or the city's trash system. Performers sang Christian worship music from the area where city staff once sat, now cleared of desks and illuminated by colored lights.

Sure, the city seal still hung on the building's facade, and maps of the city remained on the room's walls. The space, however, had taken on a new, less-secular purpose.

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The assembly of roughly 80 parishioners had gathered for a "preview service" for the fledgling Viewpoint Church, a contemporary, non-denominational Christian church that plans officially to launch in the old City Hall space it has rented from the city on Easter Sunday, hopefully with added decor.

"We want this place to look like something other than City Hall," said Roger Tirabassi, a Newport Beach resident of more than 20 years who is leading the effort with his wife, Becky, to "plant a church," as they describe it, on the Balboa Peninsula.

Only since mid-March have the worshipers had a more permanent space to call home.

When church members started meeting roughly a year ago, they gathered at first on the sandy shores near The Wedge. As they grew in size, and winter approached, they also used space provided to them by Costa Mesa's Rock Harbor Church, which is guiding and supporting their efforts.

Although a hotel is in the works to be built on the land at 3300 Newport Blvd., the city hasn't yet approved a final project. The California Coastal Commission would also have to consider the hotel's plans before construction can begin.

Until then, Viewpoint Church pays the city the standard $46 hourly rate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each Sunday to hold services at the old City Hall — a space they chose because of its immediate availability and its location on the Peninsula. They also rent the room for occasional weekday meetings.

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