The Origin Story of Irenic Projects

LOCATION: Pasadena, CA

In 1884 a group of Disciples of Christ met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. L.H. Bixby for the purpose of prayer. They officially formed the Pasadena Christian Church Charter on May 28, 1886.

The first sanctuary, on South De Lacey St in Pasadena, built 1886, was destroyed by a powerful wind storm on December 10, 1891.

In April 1893, a new sanctuary was completed on the corner of North Fair Oaks and Mary Street.

Dedication ceremonies for the third sanctuary, on the corner of Marengo Avenue and Walnut Street, were held on September 22, 1907.

Dedication ceremonies for the fourth sanctuary were held on October 1, 1967. Built by Pasadena local architect John Galbraith, the 46 foot high pitched roof houses faceted stained glass windows by Judson Studios, also completed 1967, and a fully functioning Murray M. Harris Organ built in 1907 (transported from the third sanctuary). The exposed wooden beams, roughly hammered concrete, and foyer with sweeping curved walls are among the details of this classic, mid-century modern sanctuary.

Fast forward to 2019: A few days before Easter, artist Gregory Michael Hernandez bumped into the new Pastor on the street in front of the church and introduced himself. Having lived on the same block since 2013, Hernandez explained that his kids attended Altadena Nursery School (renters on the church property) but he had never seen the inside of the sanctuary. They went inside.

PASTOR: Our first Sunday as a new, progressive, open and affirming congregation is this Sunday, Easter, and I'm nervous. I have all these white walls in the foyer. I wish I knew an artist.

Gregory Michael Hernandez: Did I mention I'm an artist? Let's walk across the street and I will show you my studio.

(Before visiting the studio, GMH was shown the side chapel: a carpeted, dark, brick-walled room off the side of the sanctuary.)

PASTOR: I call this 'the ugliest chapel in the world'. I wish I knew what to do with this space.

GMH [Silently, to himself]: This is going to be my studio.

A few weeks later, the Pastor and GMH were having drinks at The Colorado Bar on Colorado Blvd. GMH made a proposal: if he is allowed to convert the side chapel into an art studio, and use it rent-free as the official 'Artist in Residence' of the church, he would create an art exhibition program. Curating 6-8 shows a year, it would enhance the life of the church and the focus would be the intersection of religion and politics.

GMH: I want there to be initial confusion: For the artist, why would a church be interested in showing my work? For the congregation, what does this art have to do with religion or the church? And eventually each experiences an ah-ha moment as the connections are made.

The hand shake deal was solidified that night, and Irenic Projects was formed.

Fast forward to 2023: The fourth (and final) sanctuary was sold on June 30th, 2023, thus ending the 137 year history of the Pasadena Disciples of Christ. After removing the 1907 cornerstone off the property, GMH ceremonially inherited the history and infused it into Irenic Projects, which will carry on the legacy. The historical archive may be visited in person at All Saints Church Pasadena, or viewed on this website.

Gregory Michael Hernandez is a self-described Christian Atheist. Raised in the Southern Baptist Christian Church and educated at an Evangelical Bible College in the late 90’s, GMH has spent the last 23 years deconstructing and reconstructing his beliefs and philosophies.

GMH is “Christian” because it is his formative identity: the stories, ideas, and images are lodged deep into his imagination - he could no easier remove his skin - and he is committed to the evolving maintenance of his inherited faith system. This includes contributing to the theological framework required to fight the current scourge of a reawakened White American Christian Nationalism, and fight antisemitism.

GMH is “Atheist” because he no longer believes that there is a God, Hell, or afterlife of any kind. He thinks that Christianity needs to have a strong ‘materialism’ strain in order to cross check the believers. In other words, Christianity should be about food, shelter, clothing, economic systems, land use, housing, penal systems, policy, politics, revolution within oppressive governments, and ALL the things that give or deny dignity and justice to people and the earth, in THIS life.

Visit his own work at www.gmhstudio.com