Prayer net­work on a mis­sion to save Hol­ly­wood

Chris­tians pray for stars like Brit­tany Spears

The Covington News - - RELIGION - By Gil­lian Flac­cus

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.”

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