In all causes of human rights and justice. Why don’t you hear more about it? Isn’t that what we supposedly pride ourselves on in The People’s Republic of SM?

It’s Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen‘s fault. She’s not Jim Conn. Who? Who?

See? Even if you have lived in Santa Monica a long time, you may not be familiar with her work or even know her name. Just today I met a local official, longtime resident, who drew a blank at the mention.

It’s her personal style, I think. She speaks quickly but very softly. She’s diminutive. Humble, a gentle spirit. Thoughtful with her words. Not flashy or flamboyant in any way. More interested in listening than talking. She’s self-deprecating but makes it clear she is not afraid of anything and is willing to take on the biggest challenges. If the cause is right, having only the slimmest chance of success is not even a consideration for her.


Only some might call her that, but that’s OK. We love charisma, don’t we? But it’s overrated.

Often it’s useful. Dr. King’s charisma and oratorical skills brought attention and respect to the Civil Rights Movement that perhaps no one else could have. Same with Gandhi. I keep hearing that Donald Trump has charisma, but I just can’t seem to find it. (Maybe it’s being audited, with his tax returns. Maybe it’s under one of those strategically-coiffed flying buttresses of dyed blond hair.) JFK had charisma, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Gavin Newsom, Beto seems to, Bernie has his own kind.

Her predecessor, Rev. James Conn, had a lot of charisma, and he accomplished a lot. Conn was ambitious and ran for City Council and was appointed Mayor, and some say that changed him, for better or worse. His legacy in Santa Monica is undeniable and large; many credit him with single handedly turning a scruffy beach town in the ‘70s into the poster child of all things progressive.

That’s the big shoes McKeithen came to fill, and she’s done it much more than many people know. Very quietly, of course. But it’s time to familiarize yourself with, and support, all the good work Rev. Janet does at the Church in Ocean Park (CIOP), because we may not have her, or the church, for much longer.


There’s a big fight going on now in the second-largest Protestant church in the US, and while you do not want me to bore you with the details (it’s concurrently shameful and not surprising), the end result may hit us hard right here in Santa Monica.

(The LA Times ran a long front page story on the Methodist problem Tuesday.)

The Rev came close to being ousted a few years ago by a bishop who didn’t think her church service was “Christian enough.” No altar, no crosses, no vestments, no Bibles being thumped, and a really mixed congregation including Jews, Catholics, atheists, Buddhists, all races, all genders, all abilities, you name it. Very Santa Monica, not so Methodist.

She survived that one (the bishop was sent packing to Northern California) but this one is not about her, it’s the whole worldwide church. And their firm stand against gays.

The Methodists have a Book of Discipline, which contains the law and doctrine they follow. The BofD frowns menacingly upon homosexuality; it does not allow gay ministers, and it punishes any minister who performs a gay marriage with a year’s suspension without pay for the first violation, and permanent expulsion, no trial, for the second. Rev. McKeithen says she loves the CIOP and feels it is what she was called to the ministry for, and would hate to lose it. Unfortunately, the United Methodist Church (UMC) owns all their church buildings and land. (Also, losing her pension after 35 years as a minister would be a personal disaster.)


But morality and principle put everything else in the back seat for her. The UMC had a special session in St. Louis last month, to consider the growing division over the stand on gays, and she spoke out in no uncertain terms.

“It may come to a schism, a split,” she told me. “If that happens I know which side I’m on. The progressive wing of the church is all over the place — as progressives usually are — but I cannot be part of some compromise to what I know is right.

“There was some pretty strong language at the conference, gays were called everything including ‘spawn of Satan’ — I have seen what terrible damage that does, when you tell someone, especially a young person, that they are damaged goods, broken, wrong in their very being. I won’t be a part of that.”

She has performed quite a few same-sex marriages since landing here almost 14 years ago, has not yet received any discipline for it yet but is a known “rogue minister” to the church’s conservatives. There are a few policy procedures to go through before the next quadrennial session in January but it looks like the deck is stacked, she said, and it would be a miracle if things could be resolved in a way that keeps her here or even in the United Methodist Church. (Her husband is also a UMC minister.)

She doesn’t know what she will do but she does know what she won’t do.


“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” — Mark Twain

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 33 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at

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  1. CIOP was my community in the early 90s till 2003. You skipped right over Rev Sandie Richards who was the minister that arrived to a most difficult job, following Rev Jim Conn who went on to seed many amazing uplifting projects through an Urban minister position created for him to do more fabulousness. Jim, Sandie, and Janet are epitome of valuing life and love, no matter whether gay, trans, all ages, mental capacity, race, extreme poor, or wealthy donors. It is sad there is so much for UMC ministers to lose with retirement savings, but I am pretty sure the intolerant United Methodist Church has been and remains heterocentric. But as Sandie taught us, we’ve overcome other isms and this one is next. What is the most sad and alarming is how profusely American “christians” have sent “missionaries” to Africa to fuel the homophobia there which is life threatening, a danger it seems would sway them to stop, but no.

  2. I have nothing but respect for Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen, Rev. Sandie Richards and Rev. James Conn. They are (or have been in the case of Sandie Richards) the heart and soul of Ocean Park since I have lived in Santa Monica beginning in 1989.

  3. Say what you will about whether the City of Santa Monica has stayed true to the spirit and promise we associate with the time Rev. James Conn made the Church in Ocean Park a symbol of this city’s conscience. But, Rev. Janet McKeithen keeps this heart of our community pumping life into the causes that would have faded without her constant support.

  4. because of old-recollections and following some reminders of what WAS before, but is no more – or has no/less value to some of us elders.. i chose to see OPC website, saw a great east Indian shakti art work so deliberately took time, effort to attend Sunday morning event – and was alarmed or rather dismayed.
    Same people of old, much older and thus also less recognizable except in their same ‘be nice or pretend to ‘ attitude, persona…and their distance and defensive separation from ‘each other’ as observed directly there…
    and the pgm was not was it appeared but by a person reciting of some Hindu deities – boring…. and having not having been welcomed, spoken to, approached by church members nor given any ‘welcome’ …
    i realized i was also, not only, looking to find some ‘community’ with friendly welcoming people -who were perhaps looking to enlarge their meager base of few attendees. Not so.

    only 1 younger male spoke to me, and we conversed, met wits & quirky minds but no one else even greeted scheduled speaker when he arrived – I happened to speak to him to find he was not ‘female’ as pix depicted /advertised lure via website, but left to fend by himself too… ok…

    the prior ministers were different and i remember now that comments here reminded me of Sandi and of course, Jim Conn- who showed courage and activism and Sandi was hounded and made unwelcome much of her time there -then, not easily admitted, but denied later…but often discussed by ‘members’ = back when…

    so thanks for article and ‘older’ recollections revived – and my msg is NOTHING much has changed and not for any better for sure !
    Janet was there sounding hard and not too happy or being friendly with strangers, newcomers and instead seemed distant- as were all others .
    clearly Observed, noted, and a lesson in itself – learned well, thank you.

    also noted: thin paper pgm for day’s event listed 1 person 7x by name for a lot of credit [some of us didn’t think she deserved or was worth all that ink on 2 pages of paper ] – so wondered if racism pro darker color was in play vs. being equitable to any others who performed duties/ volunteered help -i.e. Fred and Nathan and maybe others ? not printed on prgm leaflet – because they are not dark enough or taken for granted ?
    strange to observe this slanted expression of what is valued at OPC.

    thanks for letting me express this as on OPC website, there was no email to be able to contact Janet or her staff there…. so i searched further and found YOU instead. good. [as proxy]

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