Report from the Ministry Council concerning the involvement of Lake Avenue Church in the Pasadena Unified School District SKILLZ program

August 27, 2022

In summer 2021, beginning during the Ministry Council’s first listening session, a concern was raised about the participation of Planned Parenthood volunteers in a program which had taken place on the Lake Avenue Church campus some years earlier. After further dialogue, the Ministry Council decided that it should take a closer look. In this process, we also became aware of a perception among some that Lake Avenue Church has been unclear as to our convictions regarding abortion.

While addressing a number of other important and pressing church issues, the Council devoted substantial time to this at several of its meetings. The Council appointed from its members a task force to speak with the leaders involved, obtain a clear understanding of the facts, and recommend a course of action. The task force members were Scott White (Associate Pastor of Outreach and Interim Lead Ministry Pastor), Mike Soderling (Outreach Division Chair), Irv Rager (Finance Committee Chair), and Bob Sloat (Worship & Arts Division Chair).

The Ministry Council strongly affirms those who bring to our attention issues of concern to them, especially when they involve core convictions such as the sanctity of life. In this case, as unfortunately can happen when people feel strongly about an issue, some of the communication within the Congregation has been inaccurate and unhelpful, poorly timed and divisive; we are seeking to remedy this to the extent possible.

This report explains the situation and the actions which the Ministry Council has taken.

Facts. These are the key facts as determined by the task force:

  • STARS. Lake Avenue Community Foundation (now known as STARS) was formed in 2001 through the leadership of Lake Avenue Church as a separate entity able to receive third-party support to pursue ministry to the youth and families of our community, beginning with the STARS after-school program (founded five years earlier by a Lake Avenue Church member) and expanding in several strategic directions. LAC and our people have historically played key roles in the financial and personal support and development of STARS. (For more information see
  • SKILLZ. In 2010, the inability of the Pasadena Unified School District to fund summer school put many less-advantaged middle school students at severe risk of failing in school and dropping out. STARS joined with PUSD and other community partners to begin the SKILLZ program, which continued through summer 2019 until being suspended during the COVID pandemic. Lake Avenue Church’s only role was to provide the facilities in which the SKILLZ program met. We were uniquely able to do this, not only because of the size and availability of our campus, but also because it was deemed to be geographically neutral territory where students can attend without fear of violence. STARS leaders also provided structured life-skills coaching and teaching during SKILLZ sessions. LAC and STARS did not participate directly in determining the program or selecting service providers. But our participation allowed us to speak into aspects of the process and to be present: key pastoral staff leaders of STARS were on campus during SKILLZ, interacting and building relationships with students who otherwise might never connect with our church. The program resumed in summer 2022 at a different location, so LAC no longer has a role in SKILLZ.
  • Planned Parenthood. When it took place on our campus, SKILLS included 120 hours of instruction. One hour of that time was a session, conducted in small groups, which focused on sexually transmitted diseases and related student health and safety issues. For that one-hour session only, the SKILLZ program organizers arranged for instructors who were affiliated with Planned Parenthood. A pastoral leader of STARS was present in each of those one-hour sessions and assured us that the instruction did not include discussion of abortion and no Planned Parenthood literature was distributed.
  • Impact on Lake Avenue Church’s ministry to the community. Our task force heard reports and saw statistics confirming the effectiveness of the SKILLZ program. Among the many benefits of LAC’s participation were extending God’s love to young people in critical need of help, strengthening relationships of influence within the community, giving students a positive experience on our church campus, and allowing them to become acquainted with some of our pastors and staff who then had an opportunity to speak into their lives. It also provided the potential for sharing the good news of Jesus with students, teachers, support staff, and even the volunteers from Planned Parenthood, all of whom had direct access to pastoral leaders of STARS.

Actions Taken. After discussing these facts and others details and dynamics beyond the scope of this report, the task force recommended and the Ministry Council approved these actions:

  1. As the elders of Lake Avenue Church, we take this opportunity to affirm clearly Lake Avenue Church’s continuous historical commitment to the sanctity of life and opposition to abortion. Stated briefly, we believe that all human life is sacred, that life begins at conception, that abortion is the taking of a human life, and that we are obligated before God to defend the unborn as human beings created in God’s image. We join believers around the world in affirming the statement of our denomination, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference:
  2. Though we made clear our preference that the SKILLZ safe sex sessions be taught by individuals unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, we recognized that insisting on such a change might not be consistent with maintaining the complex network of relationships essential to the existence of SKILLZ. We recognize the importance of the SKILLZ program to the educational success of many young people in our community and the opportunity it gave Lake Avenue Church and STARS to build relationships which serve as bridges to Jesus Christ and His church. Because the leaders of SKILLZ decided to move the program to another location, its presence at LAC is no longer an issue. While we value the positive impact that our church was able to have through hosting SKILLZ, it will be appropriate for the issue to be brought to the Ministry Council for further consideration if the program seeks to return to our campus.

The Lake Avenue Church Ministry Council