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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023



Staff Writer

In 1967, Heber Jentzsch was singing in front of an unusually rowdy crowd in Las Vegas. In the middle of his set, a man stood up and began demanding very loudly that Jentzsch get off the stage and that the showgirls be brought in to replace him.

It was at that very moment the then-32-year-old Jentzsch realized his life was heading in the wrong direction.

He got in his car and headed west to Los Angeles. He went downtown to the Church of Scientology an institution he had read about while in the Army and turned over his life.

“Nothing else had worked in my life,” Jentzsch said. “I walked into the church and never looked back.”

Jentzsch, now 63, has become the president of the Church of Scientology International, which reportedly has 8 million members. As an ordained minister of the religion, he performs weddings and funerals and keeps up his study of Scientology’s tenets for several hours each week.

Jentzsch also helps to direct the church’s volunteer ministries and community outreach programs, a task that placed him on the front lines of the L.A. riots and Northridge earthquake.

Seconds after the Rodney King verdict came down in 1992, Jentzsch received a call from the Rev. Cecil Murray, senior pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

“What do you think is going to happen?” Jentzsch asked.

“Hellfire and brimstone,” Murray responded.

Scared out of his mind, Jentzsch headed down to South Central and worked with the area’s ministers to try to quell the riots.

“We kept sending runners actually, gang members into the different neighborhoods, using them to tell people to cool it down, cool it down,” he said.

Two years later, Jentzsch sent 200 of the church’s volunteer minister corps to assist those wounded by the Northridge earthquake.

Jentzsch himself went downtown to survey the damage. He handed out food, water and blankets to a crowd who assembled in a parking lot because their homes were too unstable.

“We want to help people, one spiritual being to another spiritual being,” he said.

It’s this side of the church that Jentzsch believes isn’t portrayed frequently enough by the media.

Scientologists follow a moral code established by L. Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer who died more than a decade ago. Through numerous hours of study and counseling sessions known as auditing members are encouraged to reach a state of solace with their basic, spiritual natures.

Members are required to pay as they progress through the extensive auditing courses a practice that Scientologists compare to the tithing that occurs in other religions. A bitter dispute over taxation of these fees was resolved in 1993, when the IRS gave the church tax-exempt status.

Jentzsch’s own exploration of the religion started because he felt welcomed by the Scientology community, and gained a sense of direction from Hubbard’s teachings.

“Scientology is there for you to make up your own mind,” he said. “It’s there if you want it. If not, fine.”

Four years after joining the church, he became a staff member. Two years later he was ordained as a full minister.

Jentzsch blames ongoing animosity toward the church on a fear of changing the status quo. He argues that any new religion is going to be met with disapproval. “I guess I would say to the naysayers that if you have a better program and you can save people, then do it,” he said.

Spurred by the involvement of celebrities including John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, the church now claims 250,000 members in Southern California more than any other region of the world.

The church owns nine buildings in Los Angeles, ranging from the mammoth baby-blue dormitory and study centers along L. Ron Hubbard Way to the ornate Celebrity Centre International, both in Hollywood.

“Celebrities are more spiritual in nature,” Jentzsch said. “L. Ron Hubbard said, ‘A culture is as great as its dreams, and dreams are dreamed by artists.'”

There is still a little of the Vegas performer in Jentzsch. A former folk singer, he has no compunction about breaking into song in the middle of a restaurant if the story he’s telling requires it.

While he has witnessed first-hand some of the worst L.A. has to offer over the past 20 years, Jentzsch is almost relentlessly upbeat about the future and the church’s place in it.

“We’ve grown with L.A. and we’ve increased our commitment to the city tremendously,” Jentzsch said. “I’m excited about the people in this city who have dedicated their lives to helping others. I know what I’m saying here is very positive but that’s what Scientologists are.”

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