Inside the LA church attended by Meghan Markle's mum Doria and Oprah Winfrey

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read

Watch: Harry and Meghan to talk to Oprah

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s friendship with Oprah Winfrey is no secret.

The couple are to give their first sit-down interview since leaving the Royal Family to the daytime TV star, who attended their wedding, with Meghan due to talk about joining the royals, motherhood and her philanthropic work.

Winfrey has helped promote products from the first company Meghan has invested in, a coffee "wellness" startup, after the duchess sent her a gift basket of lattes.

Winfrey is also making a series on mental health with Harry, and she sent the couple’s son Archie a huge book collection when he was born.

But it turns out that Winfrey isn’t just close to the couple – she is also said to have reached out to help Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland in a time of need.

Ragland, a yoga teacher and social worker, still lives in Los Angeles, where Meghan grew up, and she and Winfrey have attended the same church in the Californian city.

Britain's Prince Harry, and Doria Ragland listen to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex speaking at the launch of a cookbook with recipes from a group of women affected by the Grenfell Tower fire at Kensington Palace in London, Britain September 20, 2018. Ben Stansall/Pool via Reuters
Harry and Doria Ragland at a cookbook launch organised by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Ragland lives close to them in California. (Ben Stansall/Reuters)

Read more: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 'overjoyed' as duchess pregnant with second child

According to Finding Freedom, the biography about Harry and Meghan released in August 2020, Winfrey helped support Ragland when her daughter's relationship with the prince was first made public, when she was followed by paparazzi through the city as she tried to work.

Authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand said: “The former talk show host, who had been introduced to Meghan by a friend, reached out to Doria to offer her support when she was first swept up in the media storm. It turned out that on occasion they went to the same church, the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles.”

The Agape Center in Los Angeles was founded by Michael Bernard Beckwith in 1986 and is described as a “global community dedicated to recognising, honouring and nurturing the dignity and uniqueness of all peoples”.

After Harry and Meghan’s wedding, Ragland got a shout-out from the stage as worshippers were welcomed.

Watch: Harry says he 'feared history repeating itself' in Oprah interview

Rickie Byars, Agape's former Music and Arts Director who left the Church in 2018, said to those assembled the day after the wedding: “Were y'all looking at the wedding yesterday? Did you look at the TV and go like, 'I know that lady'?”

“Yeah, you know Doria. She's the mother of Meghan Markle, right here at Agape!”

She laughed as she said: “So we know Meghan and Harry are livestreaming. All of America is livestreaming.”

Previous reports about the church have indicated Meghan was a youth minister. However a source has told Yahoo UK that was not the case, but she has attended its summer camp.

The church’s online mission statement says: “Through devoted practice of universal spiritual principles embodied in the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom teachings, we are agents of transformation.”

Agape runs several groups and ministries, including a prayer ministry, which the website states is run by “prayer practitioners”.

It even has a university, and the website states that its classes are “designed to tap into the genius within”.

It adds: “Our curriculum is deliberately constructed to be high voltage and energetic so that one’s personal, interpersonal and organisational and old paradigms are shattered, leaving the learner fully open to exceptional insights, brilliant revelations, inspired wisdom and intuitive knowledge.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 19: In this screengrab released on December 19th Oprah Winfrey during Global Citizen Prize Awards Special Honoring Changemakers In 2020 Shaping The World We Want on December 19, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Global Citizen)
Oprah Winfrey has got the first sit-down interview with Harry and Meghan. (Getty Images for Global Citizen)

Read more: Who are Brené Brown and Tristan Harris? The influencers Harry and Meghan 'absolutely adore'

While Beckwith calls himself a reverend, and members interchange the words "center" and church, Agape’s website says the word "center" “best describes the inclusiveness and diversity” of the congregation.

Beckwith preaches from the Bible, but not the version most people would know. He uses a “metaphysical, Gnostic-inspired edition translated” Bible which is translated from Aramaic, not Greek.

The church teaches that Jesus is like Buddha, because they are both “exemplars of unconditional love, selfless service and self-mastery”.

Agape’s community work may have been something that drew Meghan and her mother to the church, or inspired them once they were there. Agape works in the community on projects including feeding the homeless and serving those in marginalised communities.

Some of Meghan and Harry’s first public appearances after returning to California were working with charities that supported former prisoners, or those on lower incomes.

Minister/author Michael Beckwith and singer/songwriter Rickie Byars in December 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Byars was the former Music and Arts Director who left the Church in 2018.
Minister/author Michael Beckwith and singer/songwriter Rickie Byars in December 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Byars is the former Music and Arts Director who left the Church in 2018. (Getty)

Read more: The six things we learned about Harry and Meghan from his candid James Corden interview

They volunteered with Homeboy Industries, a group which Meghan worked with when she was a pupil at Immaculate Heart High School too.

They also worked to help distribute school supplies as Californian children prepare to go back to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2018, Agape moved to a new building in Beverly Hills after finding out the centre it had been using was not fit for purpose, and with the landlord seeking to double the rent.

During the pandemic the church has been holding its services online.

Other celebrity members of the church include Hilary Swank, who said it was “an important part of my soul’s evolution”, and Van Morrison, who called it “inspiring”.

Editor's note: This article was amended on 17 March