Bethel Church is known as a lot of things lately—a megachurch that has put Redding on the map as much as the Sundial Bridge has; a lightning rod for promoting its official views of homosexuality as a conscience-searing affront to God’s design; and an organization with plans in place to build a $96 million campus on Collyer Drive—but its status as a tenant is the latest to raise eyebrows.
Specifically, Bethel has signed a one-year contract with Jefferson Live! to rent the Cascade Theatre for Sunday morning services beginning Aug. 5. The arrangement, announced Monday, has caused some to question whether the Cascade was tacitly endorsing Bethel and its controversial campaign against proposed state legislation affecting the LBGTQ community.
That’s not the case, said Michelle Irvine, the Cascade’s general manager. “People are trying to turn this into a political statement but we are not political. We are a nonprofit and we don’t take sides. We are not in the habit of vetting our renters and digging into everybody’s beliefs and pasts when we rent. That’s discrimination,” Irvine said.
Randy McKay, the executive director of Jefferson Live!, said he has heard from some concerned community members who question if Jefferson Live! shares Bethel’s views. “While I don’t want to comment directly, but as the renter of a public facility, their (Bethel’s) views are not endorsed by the Cascade or Jefferson Live!,” McKay said.
(Jefferson Live! is a wholly owned subsidiary of the JPR Foundation that owns and operates both the Cascade and a sister theater in Medford, the Holly. Jefferson Public Radio, which is licensed to Southern Oregon University in Ashland, has no connection with the Cascade, its policies or its management.)
As an aside, McKay said the Cascade is routinely rented by artists and groups of all stripes: pro-gun, anti-gun, Republican, Democrat “and we can’t endorse any of those views. Of a greater concern is whether we agree with a renter or not, as a publicly available facility, asking us to discriminate against an ideology is an extremely dangerous position,” McKay said.
“We have heard some concerns in community, not as many as I feared, but still, one person who picks up the phone is speaking for many. We have referred the matter to our advisory board, our board of directors and legal counsel just to see where that fine line is and how best to respond,” McKay said.
Aaron Tesauro, Bethel’s communications director, said the lease agreement “feels like a win-win.” The theater is happy to have revenue on a day when it is usually dark, downtown shops and restaurants are bound to see a bump in business when the service lets out around noon and Bethel has more seats for its growing congregation.
Bethel has about 10,000 members in the greater Redding area and anywhere from 300 to 500 visitors each week from around the world, Tesauro said. Bethel’s College View auditorium seats 965 and its rental facility on Twin View Boulevard has room for 450 people. Between the two, Bethel conducts one service each Friday and seven each Sunday. “People have no clue just how many people are coming through,” Tesauro said. “You can only imagine how full we are.”
Tesauro estimates between 400 and 900 people will attend the 10 a.m. service at the Cascade, which seats 997. The church plans for its members to park on the California Street parking structure and in surrounding public spaces. In a letter distributed to downtown business owners, Bethel encouraged surrounding property owners to contact the church if any parking issues develop.
“We want to be good neighbors and will help find creative solutions to problems that may arise,” the letter states. Tesauro said residents should direct any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jake Mangas, president and CEO of Redding Chamber of Commerce, is quoted in a Bethel press release as saying “I think Sunday just got a whole lot busier in downtown Redding. The Redding Chamber of Commerce sees the likely influx of hundreds of people into the heart of the city each Sunday morning as very good news, and a boost to downtown restaurants and retail shops.”
“We looked all over Redding for something available that holds 1,000 people,” Tesauro said. “This is a stop-gap measure until the Collyer campus is built.”
McKay confirmed that the lease agreement has a clause that allows it to be extended if both parties are satisfied with the arrangement. “It’s a trial run for Bethel and the Cascade,” he said.
“It’s not permanent, and in the meantime it’s a time that would be unoccupied here,” said Irvine, the Cascade GM. “We’re a community building and we’re open for all. We do not discriminate. We’ve rented to churches before. City Church and Risen King have rented in the past.”
Bethel, too, has rented the Cascade several times for concerts and other special events. “Many theaters rent to churches across the country. It has been a very successful arrangement for many. I worked at a North Carolina theater that rented to a mega church and it was very beneficial.
“The mission of the Cascade Theater was created to be a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown and that’s what we’re trying to do, to continue on that mission,” Irvine said.
To accommodate the Bethel services, the North State Symphony is currently in talks with the Cascade about how best to accommodate the symphony’s occasional Sunday matinee concerts. Additionally, “Bethel has agreed that if a huge event comes up and we have to have (the theater) for an entire Sunday, they will cancel services for that day.”