Valley Life Church carries on work rooted in Lebanon’s history

It’s been two years since Valley Life Church moved into a permanent building, but it’s just the beginning of the next phase in a hundred-year-old story.
Like those who have worshipped in the building before them, Valley Life had its roots in a couple of temporary locations before settling into the cement building on the corner of Park and Vine streets.
The Jacobethan Revival style church was given to Valley Life at no charge by the Lebanon Evangelical Church, which had worshipped there for almost 60 years and was ready to retire as a congregation.
“When we were given this building by the former congregation, here was a church that needed a building [and] here was a church that was closing its doors,” said Patrick Bowler, pastor at Valley Life.
“It ended up being a great conversation and sort of a beautiful transition.”
Acquiring a building at no charge for Valley Life Church was like a gift from God for Bowler, but he said he also recognized the honor bestowed upon them for being allowed to essentially continue in the history of the building.
“We felt the weight of stepping into hundred-year-old space, and this space had seen the gospel preached in it for a long time, and to not presume upon it, to not be flippant with that reality “ Bowler said.
Not only that, but Bowler felt that in today’s transient, technically savvy, ‘in the moment’ culture, some Christians may have lost a sense of the deep connection they have to an historical faith.
“We’re recognizing this is an ancient truth that we’re committed to, and there’s something about that that’s lost,” he said. “I think coming into this building sort of left that sort of a really tangible impression of that reality.”
The history of the building itself could be said to have originated more than 150 years ago when the Methodist Episcopal congregation in Lebanon first formed in 1850.
They started meeting in a log building near Main Street near where the current Lebanon Public Library is, and moved to the southwest corner of Park and Vine streets in 1887 where they built a church and parsonage.
In 1911, Randolph Kuhn purchased and moved the church building to Second and Sherman streets, where he opened a theater. At that time, the Methodists built the current church that was designed by A.I. Crandall and made from cement created by local brothers Erie and Wirt Zoph. It cost $20,000.
In 1941, the Lebanon Evangelical Church formed and met in various locations until it purchased the cement building from the M.E. Church for $48,000 in 1958.
Established in 2006, Valley Life first held its meeting at a Seventh Day Adventist church in Lebanon, but quickly outgrew the space, Bowler said.
Three months in, they were twice the size expected, so they moved to the Lebanon High School’s auditorium for the next 9½ years.
Bowler felt the set up was working well, but said he was always being asked when they would have a building of their own.
“People still associate the church with a building,” he said. “There was a sense in which we appear out of the mist at the high school, and then we disappear again.”
In order to communicate a sense of longevity, security and permanence in the community, Valley Life started actively searching for a location, and no idea was too far-fetched to consider, he said. They looked at land, old buildings, and old businesses, but every opportunity came up empty.
After a few years of searching, they heard the Lebanon Evangelical Church was putting the building up for sale, so they arranged a tour with Marvin Miner, an elder at the church.
“At the end of showing us around, we were gathered in the auditorium and began to talk terms, and (Miner) said, ‘We’re just hoping you’ll take it,’” Bowler said.
In the past decade or so, the Evangelical church had been declining in number, and the needs of the building were outpacing the energy and finances of the congregation, Miner said, so they decided it was time to move on.
They wanted to give the building to a congregation that could invest more time and energy into it, but in return they asked Valley Life to commit financial support for their two “homegrown” missionaries for the next 10 years, Miner said.
Valley Life agreed to the terms, which was a tremendous boost to the missionaries’ sense of security, he said.
“It was a very spiritual thing,” Miner said. “It was very emotional for us guys. Everything wasn’t always easy, but it worked out and we’re grateful for it.”
Miner attended the first service Valley Life held in the building in July 2015.
“We have prayed for years that God would once again fill this building, and we just had no idea how he would do that,” Miner told Bowler that day.
The building was packed at the first service, and Bowler could see on Miner’s face how overwhelming it was for him.
“It wasn’t easy to give up our church, but when you see all the young people there now and all the work that’s happening there, you feel like somehow you got a little hand in that work,” Miner said. “They’re good people and it’s a very good church.”
An estimated 400 people showed up on the first day, and all the children were invited to join them for a “family” photo inside the building, one that’s similar to a photo taken by the Methodists in the 1940s*.

“I remember Marvin, as the kids were being ushered in and coming down the aisles to fill all the open space, I just remember that being an emotional moment for him,” Bowler said.

Editor’s note: We’ve been told that a woman attended the Methodist church and Valley Life, and is in both “family photos.” We are interested in knowing who she is. If you know her, please contact Sarah at [email protected], or call (541) 367-2136.