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'The Bad News Bears' star turned pastor raising money for AIDS/Lifecycle event

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Former child actor turned Methodist pastor participates in bike ride for AIDS charity. It's a sentence that raises more questions than it answers. How does one go from actor to pastor? And given the long, ongoing battle between Christianity and homosexuality, what leads a pastor to choose to commit to a 545-mile bike ride to raise money for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center?

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Rev. David Stambaugh, or "Rev. Dave" as he's known to most, sat down with Examiner at Bob's Espresso Bar in North Hollywood, CA on Tuesday, Mar. 25 to answer those questions and discuss his early days of acting, what led him to become a pastor and the reason he's so passionate about participating in the upcoming AIDS/Lifecycle charity event. He also discussed the opening of the "Bad News Bears" exhibit at Valley Relics Museum, where he'll be on hand in the hopes of bringing in more donations.

Rev. Dave has had a lifetime of interesting experiences one might not assume would lead to the church, but as you get to know him and hear his stories, you realize those experiences have helped shape him into the pastor, counselor, mentor and avid fundraiser he is today.

Dave began acting at the age of five, starring in commercials and going on to appear for eight years as Hank Latimer on the soap opera "Love of Life." However, the role he is most remembered and recognized for is that of Toby Whitewood in the classic 1976 film "The Bad News Bears."

Dave was actually playing little league at the time he was called in to read for "The Bad News Bears" and was one of only a handful of those cast who had any baseball experience. In fact, his team was actually in the playoffs and was scheduled to play on the same day as a call back for the film. Young Dave had no qualms in telling the director he was sorry, but he couldn't let his team down. The move paid off, impressing director Michael Ritchie, and while Dave's team lost the playoffs, he did win the role of Toby Whitewood and went on to star in both sequels, "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" and "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan."

In the early eighties, Dave attended Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He's had a lifelong love of music, which led to him playing in numerous bands starting in high school and beyond. He also tended bar as a side job and laughs, "that job was actually excellent preparation for a future of meeting people and becoming a counselor."

It was during this time, says Rev. Dave, that his interest in theology began. "I didn't really grow up thinking I was going to become a pastor. I became interested in theology and started working at a church part time. I wouldn't say I fell into it, but I just really enjoyed it and wanted to pursue it. So I went to seminary, received two masters degrees and got jobs at a couple of churches in New Jersey."

He eventually found himself heading to Hollywood, not, as one might think, to pursue acting but to work for Hollywood United Methodist Church as an education director, eventually becoming an Associate Pastor.

Hollywood United Methodist was one of the first churches to support the LGBTQ community in the early days of HIV and AIDS. The red ribbon on the church's tower has been a beacon of hope for more than 20 years, and even though the Methodist Church as a whole is sharply divided about gay marriage and LGBTQ membership, HUMC is a welcoming home to all. While the United Methodist Church does not allow pastors to perform gay marriages, Rev. Stambaugh has officiated several in a show of support for changing that rule.

So it was no surprise when he decided to pursue a charity bike ride, AIDS/Lifecycle was at the top of his list.

"It means a lot to me personally to be associated with a church that has such a visible outreach and ministry to folks who are living with HIV and AIDS, to let them know this is a place where they are welcome and accepted and loved," says Rev. Dave. "So when I started biking, and I found out about this ride, it seemed a great way to link my passion for a new-found sport, as well as a facet of my ministry, and I was able to put together my passion for peddling and my passion for progressive spirituality, in a sense."

The AIDS/Lifecycle is a 545-mile bike event with riders traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles over seven days from June 1 through June 7. The proceeds benefit the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, which helps them provide free HIV/AIDS care and medications for those in need; low-cost counseling and addiction recovery services; HIV prevention programs and housing, food, clothing and support for homeless LGBTQ youth.

As Rev. Dave continues to promote the race and his fundraising efforts, he is amazed how many people have a story about how HIV/AIDS has touched their lives.

"People come to me and share their stories. So while I may have only known one story when I started, I keep finding out more and more, and each story becomes another reason to encourage me when I get tired. There's a professional cyclist that's known for the expression 'shut up legs' whenever he thinks he can't make it. So each person who tells me they've lost someone to AIDS, or each person who says they have someone they love that's dealing with HIV and AIDS...that's my inspiration and motivation to keep going."

As of today, Rev. Dave has raised over $15,000, placing him as the 8th-highest fundraiser in Southern California and 15th in the nation, and he's determined to keep that number climbing until June.

Towards that effort, this Saturday, Mar. 29, the San Fernando Valley Relics Museum, in conjunction with the Delta Bravo Urban Exploration Team, will premiere their new "Bad News Bears" exhibit with a plethora of memorabilia from Rev. Dave's personal collection, including props, signs, photographs and more. Rev. Dave, Toby Whitewood himself, will be on hand with cards and flyers about AIDS/Lifecycle. This free-admission event begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Valley Relics Museum at 21630 Marilla St., Chatsworth CA 91311.

To find out more and to support #RevDaveRides and make a 100% tax-deductible donation, you can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @TheRealRevDave or his official AIDS/Lifecycle Event page.

You can also check out video of Rev. Dave's TradioV interview with Delta Bravo Urban Exploration Team where he discusses more in-depth details of his time shooting "The Bad News Bears," becoming a pastor and about the AIDS/Lifecycle event.

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Follow Rene' on Twitter @LGBTQ_Reporter

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