ECM Co-Pastor Dr. Shalonda Crawford, artist Frankie J, and ECM Pastor Shep Crawford at the Church at the Park service (ECM Media)

On Sunday, August 21, “Church at The Park” returned to South Park Recreation Center, 345 E 51st Street in South Los Angeles, after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. The multi-cultural concert and festival attracted approximately 300 community members.

The free annual event was sponsored by Pastor Shep Crawford and Co-Pastor, Dr. Shalonda “Sunshine” Crawford of the Experience Christian Ministries and the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The power couple sat down with L.A. Sentinel to describe what it takes o keep the church going during an unprecedented time.

L.A. Sentinel: You have a saying: “Don’t just go to church; be the church.”

Pastor Shep Crawford: Back in the day, a church was attended by everyone in that neighborhood. Now, the church has become “local.” Folks drive in, sing and shout, and leave without getting to know the pastor.

We’re trying to bring back the culture of getting to know your neighborhood by spending time with us and taking advantage of available resources. So, Sunday is a day when we “fuel up”, and then serve the community the other six days.

LAS: “Church at The Park” was postponed for two years due to the pandemic. What adjustments did you make during that time?

Dr. Shalonda Crawford: The biggest adjustments we had to make was ensuring church was available online, to meet people where they are. I did a TED Talk on “separation identity”, that is, how people identified themselves during the pandemic.

People struggled to understand themselves without their work. My talk brought awareness to that, and let people know that you turn inward and discover yourself not from the work you do, but from what you bring to the work.

Faith Evans testifies about God’s goodness during the service. (ECM Media)

Ninth District Councilman Curren D. Price gave the keynote address and encouraged Angelenos to cast their ballots for mayor, city attorney, and city council in the November 8 general elections. The concert and festival also included performances by multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning recording artist Faith Evans, and Latin singer and actor Frankie J.

Faith Evans shared, “I’m most proud of the fact that my walk with God has never wavered, and has always instructed and informed my [career] moves. And I’m not just saying that because we’re here today!

“[For instance], I didn’t promote my book (“Keep the Faith”: A Memoir) to avoid a conflict of interest with “Notorious” (the 2009 biographical drama film about late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., following his life and murder). But thank God it garnered enough attention to win that [New York Times African American Literary Award].”

A Native American troupe wowed the corwd with a traditional dance routine. (ECM Media)

Frankie J noted, “I love doing events like these! [The setting] is intimate and you’re connected with people who share the same faith. It’s an outreach, so it can be overwhelming at times. But I’m here doing God’s work.

“And it’s the love of these people that allow me to still be out here doing what I do after 28 years in the business. I just put out a new single: “El Unico (The Only One)”. So being Latino in this place is an awesome thing.”

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Hundreds of people enjoyed Church at the Park. (ECM Media)

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