Former Victory Church Packs Up

Congregation moves out of building it once owned; future uncertain, members say

Northscape -- The Grand Forks Herald Online/May 23, 1999
By Stephen J. Lee

Members of a once-controversial Grand Forks church packed up furniture and other items Saturday as the congregation moves out of the church it's been in for 11 years.

It brings to an end a chapter in the community's religious life, as a church that was once featured on a national TV show and aired its own local show appears to be closing.

Saturday, a U-Haul truck and a smaller U-Haul trailer were backed up to the former Victory Church on north Washington Street. The building has belonged to another congregation, the First Church of God, since last August, but the former Victory congregation -- now known as Abundant Life Church -- has continued to lease and use space in the building.

Palms, supplies

Several large potted palms that once were on the platform behind the preacher were covered in plastic, waiting to be put on board. Other church and school supplies were loaded into the truck.

"We are moving some of the things down to Florida," said Barb Skyberg, a church member and office member who was helping direct the packing.

Since last year when it sold the building to First Church of God, the former Victory Church has been known as Abundant Life Church.

The story of the homegrown congregation began in 1981. Renee and Ed Julison, natives of East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, had experienced dramatic conversions to Pentecostal Christianity. They started a prayer group, attended a Tulsa, Okla., Bible training school for a short time, and came back to Grand Forks to begin a congregation called Victorious Believers.

It quickly grew to well over 200 people, meeting in temporary locations and buying a building in south Grand Forks that soon was too small. In 1987, they bought a former industrial steel building on North Washington Street, just outside the city limits. They changed the name to Victory Church and World Outreach Center.

Weekly TV show

For about a year, in 1992, the church aired a half-hour show every week on KXJB-TV, channel 4.

The church identified with the "word of faith" movement, in which members are urged to believe God will bless them materially as well as spiritually.

The church gained notoriety in March 1994, when several ex-members brought in a cult expert and denounced the Julisons as abusive and cult-like leaders. The Julisons held their own seminar shortly after, bringing in their own cult expert, who said the Julisons practiced basic Christianity and that ex-members were practicing religious intolerance.

In a dramatic moment, while he entered the church for his seminar, Ed Julison was served with a civil lawsuit. Seven ex-members sued the Julisons for more than $50,000, alleging emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse. The suit was dropped a year later.

Physicians drop out

Meanwhile, also in the spring of 1994, three Grand Forks doctors who had been members quit the church, saying they had given large amounts of money to the church over the years but that the Julisons would not give them an accounting of how it was spent. One doctor, and several other ex-members, said the Julisons' ministry contributed to their own marriages breaking up.

Karlene Croy and others said members were expected to chauffeur the Julisons, cook, clean their home and do their yard work, all for no pay.

Supporters of the Julisons said the work was done out of love for the pastors.

In July 1994, the church was featured on the Oprah Winfrey television show, in a segment titled, "Are you in a cult and don't know it?"

Renee Julison sued the Oprah show to try to keep the program from airing, saying tapes of telephone calls to be broadcast were illegally obtained.

But the show aired, and Julison later dropped her suit.

On the show, Brad and Karlene Croy of Grand Forks told their tale of having Karlene "deprogrammed" by cult expert Rick Ross.

A taped telephone call was played on the show in which Renee Julison berated Karlene Croy: "Don't start crying, don't start whining to me. I'm trying to do some business, I'm trying to run a ministry and I don't want any crying, OK?"

Julisons defended

Mr. and Mrs. Z [Note: the Z. family later left Victory Chapel and are no longer associated with the Julisons in any way, shape or form]also were on the show and defended the Julisons and the church, saying it ministered to people in need.

After the controversy, the Victory Church's membership dwindled. But it has continued to meet, although several in contact with the congregation estimate its attendance at about 30 or less.

Plans now for the congregation are not certain, Skyberg said the Julisons told her Saturday. But Ed Julison said he hopes to send another pastor to the Grand Forks congregation, Skyberg said.

Meanwhile, a final worship service in the building will be held today at 2:30 p.m., Skyberg said. The church quit advertising services last week.

The members are being given opportunities to move to Daytona Beach to work in the Julisons' ministry there, she said, or to stay here. She is staying in East Grand Forks, Skyberg said. Since the Julisons left Grand Forks, 15 to 20 members have moved to Daytona Beach to help with the ministry there.

Last August, the First Church of God bought the building from Victory Church, but leased back space to allow the Victory congregation to keep its school and worship services.

A new start

Victory Church changed its name to Abundant Life Church as a new start, Mr. Z said last August. A longtime assistant to the Julisons, Mr. Z had served as assistant pastor since the Julisons moved to Daytona Beach in 1993. He no longer serves in that office and has been attending another Grand Forks church, said a pastor in Grand Forks.

Various members help lead services, Skyberg said, but the Julisons remain the pastors.

Meanwhile, the First Church of God will be the only congregation worshipping in its building, said the pastor, the Rev. Walter Truex.

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