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Dedicated Staff Member At Valleybrook Church Works To Help Their Community

May 20, 2018

There is nothing conventional about using an old movie theater to teach the word of the Lord, but that’s exactly what occurs at Eau Claire’s Valleybrook Church.

Originally stemming from the Salem Baptist Church in Eau Claire, Valleybrook Church, at 412 Barstow St., is not your stereotypical worship setting. The church is built between bars, shops, and among the busy streets of downtown Eau Claire. At first glance, it looks as if you’re still walking past an old movie theatre, especially with the “Hollywood” sign above it. But that’s not quite the case.

Despite its outside appearance, this is no longer the place to watch the newest Marvel movie on the big screen. Instead, Valleybrook Church has been a place of Christian worship for the past 24 years. Valleybrook is operated by staff dedicated to “Imitating Jesus as we make disciples,” says imitate director Ben Robertson. One of these staff members is office manager Julie Smith.

Smith has been a member of Valleybrook Church for 20 years, and she remains devoted to her faith in Jesus Christ. Initially raised Lutheran, she found herself only going to church on Sundays, but she changed her stance on religion as time passed. “I actually realized, I had a relationship with Jesus Christ,” she explained.

“Julie Smith looks into the distance as she explains Valleybrook’s purpose in Eau Claire.” © 2018 Tristan Wilkes

As the office manager at Valleybrook Church, Smith’s duties range from answering calls concerning business transactions for the church, to helping plan events for interested patrons in the community. She has also operated the sound booth during services for several years.

Smith has found religion to be one of the most important aspects of her life. But when she is not at ValleyBrook, she enjoys gardening, dancing to Zumba, and being a devoted grandma for her family. Her daughter Celena lives with her husband, Jeff, and their daughter, Reese, in Eau Claire, while she has other family in other parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri.

While she doesn’t have a favorite author, Smith enjoys reading in her leisure time. Being a member of a book club has allowed her to discover new material she might have never read by herself.

Smith spoke highly of the fellow staff at Valleybrook, including the current lead pastor Travis Albrecht, imitate director Ben Robertson, and associate pastor Nate Abuan. “He’s great. They’re all great.” said Smith.

Nate Abuan has been the associate pastor at Valleybrook since 2011. Before he worked at the church, Abuan studied music education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, graduating with his B.A. in 2005. Music has been a significant part of his life, inspiring his work and his personality at Valleybrook church.

Valleybrook Church has opened its doors to multiple styles of worship, but Smith says music has always been center stage for this establishment. During service, pastors such as Nate Abuan use music to teach lessons from the bible to people, reaching them in unexpected ways. “The music piece. I have watched God reach people through music,” Smith explained when talking about the church’s use of music in mass, “The music piece is big here.”

One aspect of Valleybrook Church that Smith finds particularly exciting is its openness to people of different backgrounds. The Church offers many different services to people in the community, including youth ministries for children from kindergarten through high school, all men’s groups, and even outreach groups for local prisoners. In the Church’s Loft area, there is framed art drawn by local prisoners hanging on the walls as a symbol of expression. Smith explained a program where people in jail were allowed to take art classes, and presented their art for the church loft to display.

Besides praising the Church for all its goods deeds, Smith was not afraid to shy away from the reality of past events. She elaborated on the effects the 2015 scandal had on their followers; dwindling church membership tremendously. “We went from this big, to this.,” Smith said when referring to attendance drifting from high to very low for a few years. However, she held faith in God’s will, and found people started coming back to the church, thanks to the efforts of staff old and new.

Looking to the future, Smith hopes for stronger connections to be made in the community between Valleybrook Church and residents of the Chippewa Valley area. She explained that “We are trying to be better neighbors. If the church doesn’t reach out, we’ll never grow.” The church is attempting to reach out to younger people because “they are the future worshipers who will continue to spread God’s message,” she said.

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