Van Meter took the position of senior minister in December, almost a year after the illness of a previous minister left the congregation without a full-time pastor. Since then, attendance and membership has continued to grow at the church, which has about 150 members and averages 60 for its 10 a.m. Sunday service.
Center for Spiritual Living, formerly known as the Church of Religious Science, was founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes. Teaching the "science of the mind," it is a worldwide denomination. Although the Menifee church is located in the heart of the senior community of Sun City, it has good representation from all ages.
"This congregation was set up basically for retirees, but with me beginning a new ministry and being relatively young at 49, there seems to be a new family energy," Van Meter said. "We're seeing more youth and teens attend, as well as retirees."
Van Meter spent several years as an event planner for churches and as a house painter before he chose to go into the ministry. He served as assistant minister of a Center for Spiritual Living in La Crescenta before applying for the position in Menifee. He was recently ordained and is excited about spreading the teachings of his church to others.
"Our beliefs are based on the idea of 'new thought, ancient wisdom,' " Van Meter said. "We believe this is close to what Jesus was teaching. It's a little different interpretation than traditional Christian churches.
"Our goal is not to convert people to our denomination, but rather to make whatever you are the best you can be. If you believe, there's nothing that can stop you."
Church members begin studying the religion in a "Foundations" class, then progress through a curriculum of instruction. Classes are held on Tuesdays in addition to the church service on Sunday. According to Van Meter, members can qualify to become a "practitioner" -- someone licensed by the state to minister to others and offer prayers on their behalf.
"This is a place where people can express themselves freely," he said. "It's like Yoda said (in the "Star Wars" movie): We teach that it's not "I'll believe it when I see it." It's "I'll see it when I believe it."
Center for Spiritual Living is located at 26805 Murrieta Road in the Sun City community of Menifee. For information, call 951-679-6622.