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DOWNEY - The Rev. Moses Barrios never imagined he'd ever pastor a Christian church filled with non-Christians, but after months of preaching to a new congregation of passionate seekers, the 34-year-old pastor wouldn't have it any other way.
"Crave Life is interesting," he said with a chuckle followed by a wide grin. "The people are discovering faith in God - exploring. It's a village of people from diverse backgrounds ethnically, socially, economically.
"On a Sunday we'll have young professionals and a homeless guy at the same time in the same building," he added. "It's pretty unique."
Advertised as "not yo mama's church," Crave Life Church strives to be a creative, 21st century house of worship for a new generation of churchgoers seeking relevant Bible teaching and a welcoming environment.
Barrios believes his church offers something different for those frustrated with the old church culture.
"When you think of the term Christian today, you think of someone super conservative, ultra-Republican...someone who discriminates, judges, or is even racist," Barrios said. "I could be very conservative, but people are trying to figure things out. People come with substance abuse, just out of jail, dealing with sickness...I'd rather have them in my church."
Founded less than two years ago, Crave Life Church is perhaps the newest church in Downey after the diverse congregation relocated from the city of Buena Park to the Columbia Memorial Space Center where services are now held every Sunday morning.
Barrios, a native of Downey, felt the call to start the church after serving in six different Christian denominations over the course of 10 years.
From Pentecostal and Baptist to Methodist and Reformed churches, Barrios oversaw music ministries and young adults groups for years before eventually leaving a well-paying job to serve at a church in San Jose, Calif.
"[But] I felt God was calling us back to Southern California," said Barrios who soon met with leaders of the growing Evangelical Covenant denomination about starting a new church. "In 2011, we launched our first gatherings with just 20 members."
By early 2012, a Reformed church in Buena Park allowed the incipient congregation to coexist and use its facility for free.
Simultaneously, Barrios, a married father of three, began serving in multiple chaplaincies providing spiritual guidance and support at homeless missions, HIV/AIDS facilities, and hospice care agencies. Witnessing alcoholism, prostitution, mental illness and debilitating disease up close gave Barrios a new perspective on what his ministry should focus on.
"It woke me up to the fact that this is what ministry should really be about. People are hurting, broken, lost...it became real," he said.
The experience helped the young pastor to see the big picture of life instead of dwelling on the minor theological differences.
"There are people attending church with some heavy topics," he said. "The gay/lesbian community...I don't know the answer, but I know these people know what love is really about. They know what it means to care for your fellow neighbor.
"I can't explain it, but when they come in I say, 'I'm glad you're here,'" Barrios said. "I'm not trying to convert you...let's let God's spirit do the work."
After nearly a year in Buena Park, Barrios, a 1996 graduate of Warren High School, noticed many of his members were traveling from the Downey-Bellflower region.
"Downey was cool, but I didn't want to bring [the church] here," said Barrios shaking his head. "But it's not about me. If it's Downey then it's Downey...I needed to be open to that."
In December 2012, Crave Life met for the first time at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, located at 12400 Columbia Way, where the congregation continues to meet every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.
Each gathering begins with a time of music led by a live band followed by an opportunity for church members to greet one another while eating provided refreshments. After an open forum message from Barrios, parishioners are invited to partake of communion.
"We have communion every week," Barrios said. "It's the equalizer. There's a seat for everyone to commune and eat the same bread and drink of the same cup."
Although people may find reasons to avoid church in the 21st century, Barrios encourages local residents to give God a chance.
"For some it may be give God a chance again," he said. "Begin there, forgive the church. We haven't always done a good job in the past accepting people and welcoming people, but at Crave Life it doesn't matter what you look like or talk like - come with your junk. Come find Christ and a new perspective on life."
Published: February 14, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 44