Prayer network on a mission to save Hollywood
Christians pray for stars like Brittany Spears
LOS ANGELES — Anyone who thinks Britney Spears’ best days are behind should know this — she does have a prayer.
The celebuwreck, who has been struggling to get custody of her kids while launching a comeback, is the top prayergetter at the Hollywood Prayer Network, a group of more than 5,000 Christians that prays for stars instead of writing them off as lost causes.
The network recently passed a Bible to socialite Paris Hilton and plans to pass one to Spears later this month. It also picks up-and-coming child stars for its monthly Kids Prayer Calendar and pairs hundreds of mentors with struggling actors — the kind more likely to take your order in a restaurant than appear on your television.
Members of the network, which has chapters in 16 U.S. cities and eight countries, see Hollywood as the 21st century’s largest mission field, a powerful industry that can be used to sow the seeds of an international cultural and religious revival.
“We tell people, ‘If you’re angry at a TV show or you’re switching channels because of content, stop and pray for the people on the show,’” said Karen Covell, HPN’s founder. “If you really believe in God and you believe God has a transforming power, then leave it up to him.”
The group, which is co-hosting a 700-person prayer breakfast in Beverly Hills on Friday, is part of a larger movement among Christians who feel that Hollywood may be the best vehicle for reaching the uninitiated, said Robert Johnston, a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.
A megastar who turns his or her life around and gives the credit to God could have a tremendous influence on today’s younger generations, he said.
“The prayer network is the equivalent, and perhaps more important, than praying for our president,” Johnston said. “Just as churches have traditionally prayed for leaders, now we recognize that one of our primary sources of leadership is the entertainment industry.”
Hollywood insiders, however, say most stars probably don’t want any divine intervention — and they question the logic of praying for A-list celebrities when there are more pressing issues such as world hunger, poverty and war.
“This kind of attitude comes off as very sanctimonious and a bit creepy, frankly,” said longtime celebrity publicist Michael Levine. “I have been to some born-again Christian events that are every bit as discomforting to me as Tommy Lee at his worst.”
That attitude hasn’t fazed the Hollywood Prayer Network.
“It’s this higher need. If I were asked not to, what would I do? I don’t know if I could turn off this compassion that I feel,” said member Terri Renfro. “I’m called to do this, so I do.”
Hundreds of people have signed up for the Incognito Prayer Network, an informal list that allows members to pray for a celebrity of their choosing — or for one assigned to them. The group also hands out stickers for remote controls that read “Pray For This Show,” takes prayer walks on studio lots and sells red plastic bracelets stamped with the Hollywood ZIP code, 90028.
Spears is at the top of prayer requests these days, Covell said, but celebrities don’t have to be on the brink of a meltdown to get a little religious TLC. Some members pray for their favorite actors, for a star who seems lonely or for someone who’s had a string of box office flops.
“People will pull me aside at church and say, ‘I really have a heart for Jennifer Aniston or whoever, but I feel weird praying for them because I don’t know them,’” said Covell, who herself is a TV producer. “I say, ‘No, no, pray for them.’ It’s like a gift for them that they don’t even know they’re getting.”
A publicist for Spears’ label, Jive Records, did not return an e-mail requesting comment. A Hilton publicist also did not respond to a request for comment.
Renfro said she’s currently praying for Spears, but has prayed in the past for Robert Downey Jr. and Robin Williams — both of whom have battled addictions. Renfro, who belongs to a nondenominational church near San Francisco, puts Post-It notes on her computer to remind her to pray, but sometimes it’s hard to forget when her celebrity is nonstop tabloid fodder.
She recalled a day she prayed for Downey and then later found out he had been arrested.
“It was one of those cases where the Holy Spirit prompted me,” she said.
Renfro, 49, also volunteers for the network’s new Kids Prayer Calender. She targets a different child or teen star for prayer each day of the month.
Some are well-known (Miley Cyrus, Dakota Fanning, Daniel Radcliffe) but others, like pint- sized Rachel Covey of Disney’s “Enchanted,” are just entering the business. The goal is to swaddle these budding stars in prayer before they become the next Spears or Lindsay Lohan, she said.
“Some of them are little, little teeny kids,” said Renfro, who labels them “Ones2Watch” on the prayer calendar. “It doesn’t really matter if I think they’ll be somebody big, because there’s a value in praying for anybody who comes across this industry.”
That’s wisdom Michael Gordon takes to heart.
The 46-year-old actor, whose stage name is Michael Dean, signed up for a prayer mentor with the network a year ago after struggling to squeeze endless auditions — and rejections — around his day job at FedEx. The support from his prayer partner, an analyst with J.P. Morgan in Denver, has given Gordon the confidence to push ahead and even reveal his faith to some of his acting peers.
“When I think about biblical examples, those are the kinds of people that Jesus hung out with,” said Gordon. “He was with the lepers and the blind and the poor and the outcast and, it’s like, here I am, I’m dealing with those types of people and I have the opportunity to be a positive influence in their lives.”