GracePoint Fellowship’s beginnings can be traced to Bible study sessions held in the backyard of a Camas home in the summer of 2001.
Since that time, led by Pastor Jerome Wernow the congregation has continued to grow. It has also roamed to a handful of different locations throughout the Camas-Washougal area.
“We once said, ‘Worship with us — if you can find us,'” joked Wernow.
The church’s sites have included the Camas-Washougal Municipal Court building on “C” Street in Washougal, the Washougal Grange Hall on Washougal River Road and Prune Hill Elementary School on Tidland Street in Camas. For the past eight years GracePoint rented space to hold services on Saturdays at Lacamas Heights Baptist Church on Everett Road in Camas.
On Oct. 1, the GracePoint congregation began moving into its fifth location at the former site of the Community Church of God in Washougal. The church is leasing the property from the Association of the Churches of God of Oregon and Southwest Washington, based in Salem, Oregon.
“This is where GracePoint has momentarily landed,” Wernow explained. “We as a congregation live a day at a time, we follow that scripture. We’re not anxious about tomorrow. Our philosophy is that the church is never the building, it’s always the people. We are blessed to have a building to meet in.”
This time around, however, that building was in a state of disrepair and in need of quite a bit of tender loving care and big shot of elbow grease.
The Community Church of God, previously led by Pastor Lloyd Ward, disbanded in October 2014. Ward, founder of the Veterans Who Care Foundation, moved to east Vancouver where he continues his ministry that focuses on military veterans.
For the past year, very little upkeep or maintenance was done on the building. It was being used as a storage area for various peoples’ personal belongings.
The GracePoint congregation, as well as volunteers from other local churches, have spent countless hours preparing the building so that it would be usable — repairing, replacing and refinishing.
“This is a partnership of other churches in the community helping,” Wernow said. “It’s what a Christian community is. It’s a broader community that is helping a small little local fellowship.”
The effort has included installing new gutters and creating access for people with disabilities, as well as cleaning up water damage.
“We’re still putting Humpty Dumpty back together,” Wernow said.
But the bones of the decades-old quaint brick church seem to be as solid as the traditional wood pews that are neatly lined up in the sanctuary.
“The tones and hues in here when the sun comes through the stained glass, particularly in the morning sunrise, is incredible,” Wernow said.
The building, located on three acres, has the potential to open up a variety of opportunities for the church and its members. First, the congregation can now meet on Sundays, which is expected to be more convenient than the Saturday service that was necessary at its previous location. Future plans include establishing a community garden, and providing youth opportunities to play sports and hone their artistic talents with theater performances.
“Some people think this building is a church,” Wernow said. “This building is a building — it has walls and lights, stained glass windows and pews. It’s a means to express the church. That’s what we are here in the community to do. As a visionary, part of my vision is to bring people together in a safe place. We all come with a story, so the stories are invited here to be told.”
Wernow’s own rather eclectic and layered life story has taken him from living in a teepee in Corvallis, Oregon, to directing a pharmacy in a hospital in Indonesia and earning a doctorate degree from Catholic University Leuven in Belgium.
“I was born Jewish, raised Roman Catholic, trained as a minister in the Baptist movement, and did PhD work in the Roman Catholic community,” he said. “I have a broad appreciation that is outside of denominational confines.”
In addition to his work at GracePoint Fellowship, for 17 years Wernow has been the executive director of the Northwest Center for Bioethics in Portland, Oregon. He also teaches classes at Western Seminary. Wernow and his wife, Mary Ellen, a worship leader at GracePoint, have two grown children.
Jerome Wernow’s sermons focus on “ancient-future” worship.
“Ancient-future is a fusion of some liturgy of the past, and a contemplative life of past, with some of the modern worship of the present,” he said. “And this is what we try to capture. This is nothing new to GracePoint. It’s been since day one.”
The Wernows are looking forward to the future, but they will continue to take their ministry work one day at a time.
“My sense is that we’ve moved here to grow in heart, grow in number, and grow in the love for the community and the community’s love for us,” Jerome Wernow said. “Bringing lives to the point of grace. Getting to the point, after five moves and 14 years later, here we are.”