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New pastor guides building of New Life church
The New Life Christian congregation has had a vision of its future for many years — and now it believes it has the man to lead the church to that promised land.
The Rev. Paul Shelley signed on as the new pastor for the Williams church in late February, and with the job comes the task of building that dream.
"They had quite a vision when they started," said Shelley, who was the top candidate among three finalists, a list that started as 12 candidates and then was pared to five, then three.
"And this has been a dream of ours (the Shelley family) for over 12 years; to be able to walk into something like this and build a church," Shelley said.
This is not new for Shelley, however.
He also helped build another Assembly of God church, and helped with the construction of a church outside that denomination.
It was one of the attractions to hiring Shelley, but church member David Berry said he was the top choice for virtually everyone involved in the hiring process from the beginning.
The vision of a new multi-use church actually started about two decades ago with the Rev. Ken Edwards, who was pastor of the church for 24 years before resigning in August.
Edwards carried the vision for many years, and ultimately saw a place where the growing congregation could hold services, offer a place for youth to both meet and play, and even offer a place where people could gather for a cup of coffee or other refreshments and have a casual fellowship.
At the time of purchase six years ago, the congregation had expanded to nearly 100 people, and its church at Eighth and B streets could not take the strain.
So the church purchased the nearly 13,000-square-foot building on Seventh Street, between E and D streets and across from Williams Hardware.
"Of course, the economy was a bit different then," Berry said. The building has a long past with a varied life — most notably as the one-time bowling alley and quite nearly as a topless juice bar — and is in need of a great deal of work.
"This is what I walked into," quipped Shelley, providing a tour of the expansive building, some rooms filled with boxes and other material, graffiti on the wall, while other rooms do show the early signs of the remodel — but none looking like they are anywhere near ready to be occupied.
David Berry, a member of the church, said it wasn't that long ago when it was even worse.
"I have photos when there were boxes and boxes of old empty beer (bottles), Berry said.
There was even a limousine parked in what will be the main sanctuary, which will hold an estimated 300 people, possibly more.
The congregation numbers have dwindled to closer to about 30 regulars, but church officials believe the new building, with all it can offer, will spur a renewed growth.
They certainly have one believer: Pastor Shelley.
"I am very excited about this opportunity," he said.
Shelley stands in the sanctuary room — once home to a kind of foam rubber manufacturing operation — and hears music.
Certainly part of that sound includes his son David, 16, on guitar, and his wife, Tammy, on the keyboard.
"She is not only a worship leader," Shelley said of his wife, "but her heart is really toward the youth and the young people."
The couple also has a daughter who lives with them, Danielle, 22, and another son, Raymond, 19, who works as a sound man and studio drummer at a record company back east.
The family is relocating from Amity, Ore., but Shelley spent much of his life in the Sacramento area. He is a Hiram Johnson High School graduate.
Shelley grew up the son of an Assembly of God minister, and said the calling grew inside of him since he was 5 years old.
By age 14 he was involved in the ministry, and by 17 he was preaching at the pulpit.
He has been an ordained minister for more than 20 years.
Shelley described himself as a progressive Pentecostal, and insists everyone is welcome.
"From cowboy hats to tattoos and piercings," said Shelley, adding he will do his preaching in jeans and cowboy boots.
He said the music also will likely reflect what he hopes will become a diverse congregation, which will drive how the church evolves.
Steve Berry, no relation to David, remembers when the music that came out of that building was from a short-lived dance club.
The older brick building, dating back to the late-1800s, had long been used as a bar, and the overall establishment has had a couple different restaurants.
Most people in town remember it as a bowling alley, which also had a little cafe out front.
When that closed, a roller skating rink went in for a short time.
"In fact, my daughter worked there when it was a skating rink, but I think it was only a skating rink for about a year," Berry said.
Most recently, it is was a bar with restaurant interests; and when that closed, there was talk about turning it into a topless juice bar.
When the opportunity for the church to buy it came up, the congregation acted.
The first task is to fix the sprinkler system, the restrooms and some other odds and ends so it can get a use permit from the city.
Then the real work begins, creating a youth hall, reinventing the cafe area as a coffee bar and the like, and, of course, getting the sanctuary ready for services.
The sanctuary could also double as a recreation setting.
Shelley hopes to be holding services at the renovated facility by September. "Maybe not complete, but in here doing services," he said.