A new church start-up in the Lewiston-Clarkston valley is anchored in an old-fashioned understanding of the Bible and a commitment to old-time Christian music.
The Victory In Jesus Fellowship, located in the old Roxy Theatre on Main Street, opened in mid-May and even though the gathering so far attracts only 15 to 20 people on a Sunday, it’s a melodic group.
“We are in the process of just looking for people that are interested in an old-fashioned church,” said Brent Carlson, recently retired as an elementary music teacher for the Lewiston School District, now turned preacher and organizer of the new congregation.
“We sing hymns here. A lot of churches in the valley don’t sing hymns anymore. And there are a lot of people our age that enjoy hymns; they grew up with hymns. And I believe that there’s a lot of wonderful hymns that we need to sing and we need to teach our younger people.”
The Roxy, which was built in 1912 and was the first theater in Lewiston, is owned by Nick Hasselstrom, who bought the building three years ago and intends to turn it into a place where people who are seeking God can gather.
“I just have a vision for this to be a place where people can come in and worship corporately and in the unity of the body (of Christ),” Hasselstrom said. “A place where we can come in and pray, have church, Bible studies — anything that has to do with anybody that’s really seeking a relationship with the Lord is what I want happening in here.”
About 25 years ago, after the Roxy’s movie days were over, the building became home to New Bridges Church, a fledgling congregation founded by Brad and Sue Bramlet, whose church recently merged with River City Church, now located at 2102 Eighth St.
Since then, Carlson said, other churches have come and gone in the building. A few doors down, the Gateway Church closed its downtown location and moved into the former River City Church on Seventh Avenue, making the Victory in Jesus Fellowship the sole church on Main Street.
Carlson, 59, whose father was a preacher and who began preaching himself in college, was serving at Living Heritage Church, a Free Methodist congregation in the Clarkston Heights. But a difference of opinion in the way Carlson interpreted theology and the superintendents of that denomination did so prompted him and several of the church members to go their own way four months ago.
Carlson said the schism came about over liberalism in the church.
“It had to do with societal norms that are not biblical and that don’t agree with the Bible to come into the church,” Carlson said. “And I believe that the church should stay true to the inerrant word of Scripture and not go with what society says is OK.”
That philosophy also guides Carlson’s interest in maintaining the old-time traditional church music.
“I run into people all the time that are disenchanted with the modern church because they’ve moved so far from what we grew up with,” he said. “And so my vision here is to do both — to have a blend of modern songs once in awhile, but we spend a lot of time in the old songs. The ‘Amazing Grace,’ the ‘When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,’ the ‘Blessed Assurance,’ ‘Because He Lives.’ All the old hymns that mean so much to me personally and I know mean so much to so many people 40 and up.”
Much of the contemporary music used in churches these days, Carlson said, is barely distinguishable from the tunes played by the local disc jockey on the radio.
“These typical modern choruses are not based on Scripture,” he said. “They’re based on feeling, and that (comes) from years and years (of) music ministry. And so when I look at a song I look at the lyrics, and I look at what Scripture it’s tied to, and there is a lot of very deep theology in the hymns.
“The very modern stuff is the stuff that I struggle with personally — Christian rock, Christian rap — those kinds of things that try to bring the world music into the church.
“I don’t agree with that. I think the church should be different.”
Carlson said some pastors justify allowing modern music into their services by saying the church needs to represent the way people live now.
“And so what you hear on Friday night at the bar is what you hear in church,” Carlson said. “Well I don’t agree with that. I think that if the people come to a fellowship like this they’re looking for something different. They’re looking for Bible teaching. They’re looking for a relationship with Jesus. They’re not looking for a hootenanny good time.”
As if to connect Carlson’s church with its theatrical past, the old upright piano used by the church’s pianist, Alisa Heil, once belonged to Myrtle Miller, who played piano at the old Roxy during the silent movie era.
Miller’s piano was recently donated to the church by her grandson, Dan Miller, of Asotin.
Carlson said on Sundays he plays guitar and Heil accompanies on piano. And the hymns they sing are coordinated with whatever the lesson of the day is.
Though the congregation is small, Carlson said there has been some interest in people passing by on a Sunday. Although he hopes more people will check it out once they’re aware the church is open, he has no ambitions to become something much bigger.
“I’m a little church guy; I’m not a megachurch guy,” Carlson said. “I love the family relationships that are formed in a small church that are not able to be formed in a big church.
“But it doesn’t matter to me if there’s five people here or 100 people here. That’s not why I preach. I just preach because there might be one person here that needs to hear what I’m saying and what God is saying, and that is worth it to me.”
Victory in Jesus Fellowship is open for services at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Carlson can be reached at (208) 503-9111.
Hedberg may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 983-2326.