Church convenes in troubled strip club

Find out why the music emanating from this former night club has gone from ‘bump-and-grind’ to praiseful of God …

– This former strip club, a bane to the Hazelwood neighborhood, has now been transformed into the Shepherd’s Gate Church.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When a request came in to help promote a neighborhood party in the East Portland News Community Calendar, hosted by the Shepherd’s Gate Church at 333 SE 122nd Avenue at Oak Street, it was impossible for us to picture the location of this Hazelwood neighborhood house of worship.

This was the address of a strip club, located across the street from Ron Tonkin Honda. As far back as 2008, East Portland News has reported on problems at Soobie’s Bar & Grill – from robberies to gang shootings in the parking lot.

The club that featured “cheap beer and hot strippers” had so many problems that, in October 2013 – after posting a finding of a “history of serious and persistent problems”’ at the club – the Oregon Liquor Control Commission suspended their liquor license.

The club operators turned it into a “gentleman’s juice bar” soon after losing their liquor license – but about a year ago, in July 2014, the club closed for business after a man was fatally shot in the club’s parking lot.

Church leader candidates Mark Shoman and Richard Smouse show off their new house of worship.

The building sat empty for months, until Shepherd’s Gate Church’s leadership pitched the building’s owners on their taking it over.

“The owner said he’d had an opportunity to rent it to another strip club lounge operator,” said Mark Shoman, a member of the church’s Steering Committee. “They were willing and able to pay far more in rent than we could. But, the owner decided to let us turn it into a church,” Shoman told East Portland News.”

Many of these musicians are part of their Sunday “Praise Team”, but at their community carnival, they’re “playing the hits” from years gone by.

During March and April, the parishioners remodeled the kitchen, replaced the rotting floor, and repainted the dark lounge white. They unblocked the windows, letting the sunlight shine in for the first time in decades.

Theirs is an independent, “Elder-ruled”, nondenominational Christian Community Church of about 60 members, Shoman said. “We’ve held potlucks in parks, and used space in a nearby church.

Neighbors participate in the church’s first “Community Carnival and Open House”.

Ashley Larson gets hot dogs from volunteer Leann Rowlett.

“We felt that the Lord was calling us to find a building, and He brought us here to this place, as unlikely as it was,” Shoman continued. “The owner was intrigued by our plans for the building, and many neighbors came by to welcome us while we were remodeling.”

Church members went door-to-door one week before they held a “Community Carnival and Open House” the afternoon of May 9.

Kids and adults were thrilled with the carnival games and face painting, hot dogs, soft drinks, snow cones, and treats. And oh yes, they also gave visiting kids free pony rides as well.

Neighbor Angelica Kadriov spins the wheel of fortune, and wins a gift certificate to Burgerville USA, just down the street.

“We are so excited and enthusiastic about being here in the neighborhood,” Shoman said. “We’re still discovering the needs of the neighborhood, and how we can effectively meet them.”

They gather Sundays at 10 a.m., holding a worship service which includes live music, singing, a message, sharing, and fellowship. You’ll find them at 333 SE 122nd Avenue in Portland, 97233. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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