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Hollywood is in their prayers
Maverick Christian ministry calls for people to pray for celebrities instead of boycotting their movies.
By LORI BASHEDA
The Orange County Register
It's around 10 at night and Lewis Payne puts on his pajamas and eases into a chair in his study to say a prayer – for Paris Hilton.
Payne resides in the tiny city of Quincy, Ill., on the banks of the Mississippi, but at this late hour his mind is typically 1,500 miles away in Hollywood.
"Tom Cruise doesn't know he has a lot of prayers being sent up for him," he says.
Payne is among a growing number of people across the country praying for celebrities.
While most of us shake our heads, snicker or secretly gloat over celebrity scandal and misfortune, the Hollywood Prayer Network views the planet's "most influential zip code" as an important, yet written off, "mission field," rife with people just waiting to be introduced to God.
Karen Covell, a producer of documentaries and TV specials ("Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer"), founded the non-profit ministry partly out of frustration with other members of her own faith.
"Sometimes the Christian church outside Hollywood hates Hollywood," she says. "If I can get the church to pray for the people of Hollywood, they can't hate them or be afraid of them anymore."
In what may be a first, the prayer network is calling for Christians to stop boycotting movies and asking them to turn their TVs back on.
Instead, the network gives away stickers that you can put on your remote control to remind you "to pray for the people involved in the shows on your screen" while you channel surf. You can also buy (on the network website) red rubber wristbands embossed with the Hollywood zip code, 90028, to remind you to pray for "America's culture shapers."
Nearly 5,000 people are on the network's email list; "people who want to create art but keep an ethical and moral code to our lives," Covell says.
And the ministry has put together nearly 650 prayer partnerships, in which a Christian outside the industry is teamed up with someone on the inside.
Payne was going about his business in Illinois a year ago when he saw a blurb in some random church publication about HPN seeking prayer partners.
"And I thought, 'Now there's something I'd be interested in," he says. "I'm an Anglican Priest. But I'm also an old thespian."
Payne has stood on many a community theater stage, once playing the lead cowboy, Curly, in the musical Oklahoma. Yet he is "disgusted" by many of the movies they make these days.
"They exploit women, that's what they do," he says. "And they portray religious people as, you know, strange."
Yet now he prays up to an hour most every night for the makers of those movies, and specifically for his prayer partners, two Hollywood writers whose names he doesn't feel comfortable divulging. The writers email Payne when they need divine intervention. One of them recently asked Payne to pray that his writers block lifts and his manuscript sells. There's been no word on whether Payne's prayers have been answered, he says, chuckling. "But nevertheless, to me, it's a form of ministry."
Once a month, Payne opens his mailbox to find a network newsletter with requests to pray for specific, and often unsuspecting, celebrities.
"We've all prayed for Paris Hilton, that she can find her way and that her time in jail will help her," he says. In general, though, he prays that "the needs they have may be met and that they may come to know God."
Network members can also join an "incognito" prayer team that puts a good word in up there for anyone in Hollywood who seems to need it.
Recent messages posted to the network's prayer request web page ask members to pray for rocker Richi Sambora as he goes through rehab; Seinfeld writer Larry David as he goes through a divorce; actress Drew Barrymore who "seems that she is searching for something more"; and, "considering their recent troubles," Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, that they "all come to know Jesus."
It doesn't matter if you're a Scientologist or an atheist.
"Most people will take all the prayer they can get," says the network's accountant, Teri Rice, a San Juan Capistrano CPA who prays for and admires Covell.
Covell left Chicago in '76 for USC. "When I first came out here, I couldn't find any other people who I felt like really had the same heart that I did," she says. She and seven friends began praying for each other. In 2001, she launched the Prayer Network under the Hollywood Presbyterian Church.
Today the network is one of 19 Christian ministries in Hollywood, most of which sprang up in the last ten years. Hollywood Connect, a sister ministry to the network, provides professional, spiritual and personal resources to industry Christians.
Victoria Taylor is the new program manager for Hollywood Connect. The Mission Viejo acting and singing coach, who is about to release a prayer and worship CD, says the fellowship has "saved my life."
"It's a tough, tough business. It can be very, very cut throat. Very, very superficial."
She meets up with fellow Christians once a week on a CBS lot in Studio City. Informal Friday afternoon "prayer walks," led by network members, have also sprung up on the lots at Paramount, Warner Brothers, Disney and Sony.
"We're so wanting people in other parts of the country to know, not everyone in Hollywood is trying to destroy America," Covell says. "There are really great people here. We love the people here. God, at the end of every creation, says 'It is good.' God loves creativity."
Covell says she has met her share of skeptics, people who don't believe in the power of prayer.
"There are people who look at me, like: 'Oh, no.'" To those who have been wronged by Christians, she apologizes and asks them to "please give me a chance."
Otherwise, Hollywood might not have a prayer.
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