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Wednesday, May 9, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Helicopter, video feed all for the love of God

Times Snohomish County Bureau

One church, two locations


Locations: Christian Faith Center North is at 13000 21st Drive S.E., Everett. CFC South is at 21024 24th Ave. S., SeaTac.

Service times: 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Sundays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

Upcoming events: May 12: "Cherish" Women's Breakfast (call for ticket information). May 13: Mother's Day celebration (regular service times). May 19: Ironman Breakfast, 8 a.m. May 25: Next Level Youth "Midnight Mass," 10 p.m.

Information:

www.caseytreat.com or 425-337-8310 (CFC North) or 206-824-8188 (CFC South).

Growing up in the Northwest, Casey Treat watched J.P. Patches talk to his pals directly through his "ICU2" TV screen. Young Casey would wait for the children's entertainer to call his name.

"Back then, it was a birthday thing," Treat recalled. "He'd say, 'Today is Mary's birthday. She'll be 8.' And you're waiting for him to see you on your birthday."

J.P. Patches never did call his name.

But now Treat has his own ICU2 screen.

The screen has enabled Pastor Casey Treat's ministry to go far afield from its South Everett and SeaTac locations. His nondenominational Christian Faith Center is now so high-tech it uses remote broadcasts, simultaneous translations in three languages, downloadable sermons for iPods and a helicopter to transport its two pastors between the congregations on Sundays.

Wherever he is, he can see the other congregation on a TV monitor, and they can see him on billboard-sized screens in the church sanctuary. And they talk back and forth.

At a recent morning service, his wife, Pastor Wendy Treat, took the stage in Everett.

"Bless the lord!" she said enthusiastically. "You look great! In our second 9:30 service, we were just under 10,000 people for Easter Sunday. There's a lot of people for us to reach and love."

"Reach out and say hello before you take a seat," she said. "We'll have lots of room to fill."

A screen rose from the stage.

"Here he comes," said Wendy Treat.

Casey appeared on screen.

"Hi, Wendy! How's it going on the north side?" he asked from SeaTac.

The pair bantered back and forth — husband on screen, wife on stage.

And then he began his sermon, on the subject of "knowing God, and knowing God's ways — the knowledge that's crucial to success."

It's an age-old message delivered in new media.

"I try to keep it personal and simple and make it seem as though we're all in this together," Casey Treat said. "We're all connected, we're all studying the Bible, praying and living life together. The goal is to feel like a family."

And the family is growing — 8,000 people now attend weekly services at the Christian Faith Center.

"Usually, Wendy hosts at the other campus, and we can talk back and forth at the beginning of the service," Treat said. "We've been using the technology for two years, but we didn't need to use it as much until we went to the two services."

They also helicopter back and forth for two Sunday-morning services at each location, sometimes battling rain, snow, sleet and hail during the 42-mile ride. Pretty much any weather goes, Treat said, "as long as the clouds aren't too low."

"When you have one pastor and two locations, you have to either have more services ... or you have to best use your resource, which is your pastor," said Brent Seavey, a volunteer and security coordinator. "And the best use of our best resource is to have him available in two places."

Seavey describes the logistics as similar to "swapping cars."

After Treat's 35- to 40-minute sermon in Everett, he drives to a nearby playfield and boards the helicopter for the flight south, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the weather.

The Treats saw immediate growth from having two services at each location. Between 1,300 and 1,500 seats are put out per service, and, "we've increased by a couple hundred in both locations in just the two weeks since we changed our service times," said Kris Hillstrom, the church's media director.

Among Hillstrom's responsibilities is the computer network between the two campuses.

The countdown is done on the monitors at both locations on the floor "so that Casey or Wendy, whoever's on stage, knows that we're starting the feed," Hillstrom said. "Then, basically, we just put up the video feed on these big screens, same thing south, and then we shoot from our cameras."

The signals make a one-second round trip between the facilities, "so they can actually have conversations back and forth," Hillstrom said. "Casey tells a joke on one end; people laugh on the other."

A message of success

Treat's sermons, which often run along the themes of practical teaching for success in everyday life, have drawn everyone from children with backpacks and bluejeans to businessmen and women in designer suits.

"God didn't create us to suffer; he created us to be successful," Treat said. "We have to open the door and be ready for it. Success is a gift freely given, and all you have to do is accept it."

"It's a practical application of the word that is livable," his wife added.

Seavey believes that's an integral part of the church's appeal. A Realtor, he and his wife left their jobs in Chicago to join the Christian Faith Center in 2002 after seeing Treat on cable TV.

"Week after week, it was something I could use. It was something that I could put in my hand, put in my life, and use."

Longtime venture

Treat was ordained by Pastor Frederick Price at Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles, and he founded his church in 1980 with a group of 30.

The Treats had met in 1976 at Seattle Bible College — "I heard him teach his first lesson," Wendy Treat said. They married in 1978, and Wendy Treat was ordained at the Christian Faith Center.

The congregation first met at the former Seattle Christian School gymnasium foyer in SeaTac. The south-campus property was purchased in 1981, and in 2003 the Treats were contacted and asked if they wanted to buy the church where they were married in Everett. After consulting with their board of elders, they agreed to purchase the property. It became the north-campus site.

The church remains on the move. In September, the south campus will move into a 218,500-square-foot complex under construction in Federal Way.

With a long history of televised sermons, the Treats are at ease bantering side by side — even in virtual reality.

"We learned how to talk to each other, so it's kind of been evolving, growing, developing, learning how to communicate," said Wendy Treat. Her father, Paul Peterson, was a Methodist pastor, and, "my mom was a [preacher's kid], my brother's a pastor, my sister is married to a pastor," she said.

The Treats have three children, ages 21, 20 and 18, and "Casey and I have worked to let our children feel safe that they're not on display," she said. "My mom had the same thing in a very positive way. We always lived right next to the church, so our door was open to people ... but we weren't owned by it. There was a really good balance.

"We worked really hard at that with our kids."

Over the years, the Treats also have mentored others going into the ministry. Moses Katina, 19, has been here since September participating in Dominion College, a leadership-training program founded by the Treats. Katina's goal is to become a praise-and-worship leader back in Hawaii, where his father is a pastor.

"What gets me going is the zeal and the passion that I see everyone have," Katina said. "It pushes me to do my best, 'excel in excellence,' as Pastor Casey Treat teaches. He pushes for that even in the staff meetings. We're excellent in everything that we do."

The multicultural church conducts services in other languages, including a Samoan service on Sunday afternoons. "We really go to great lengths to break [cultural] barriers," said Hillstrom, the media director. "We want everybody, from all different backgrounds, all different races, and that really, I think, is the culture of Christian Faith Center. It's made us who we are, by having that diversity."

Hillstrom, 23, grew up in the church, and he said the Treats' style is to be "very fresh and innovative, very charismatic."

Casey Treat is 53, Wendy Treat is 50, and "oftentimes as a pastor ages, the church ages, and then the church can die," said Debbie Willis, one of the original 30 founding members of the church.

"We on purpose attract young people ... we want to give young people a place and an opportunity because we were very young when we started the Christian Faith Center — we were in our 20s."

Feeling of community

Creating a sense of community in such a large congregation is actually "pretty simple," Treat said.

"We don't do anything extraordinary or amazing," he said. "We try to use the technology, and it's got to be simple and easy for the congregation to relate to. It's Wendy and I talking back and forth and teaching. Our church has been built on true Christianity as a practical lifestyle rather than a religious doctrine.

"Whether you're in a small church or a large church, you have to live out your faith with friends and relationships," he said.

To maintain a small-church experience within the big church, they create "small-group environments," Treat said, "whether it's discipleship or the Connect groups or volunteering in the choir, the youth ministry. It's just a matter of everybody finding a place and building relationships."

The Connect groups are smaller groups meeting in peoples' homes; there currently are more than 500 of them.

Each week, Treat gives Associate Pastor Charles Denton a set of his notes, and "I post them on the Web site so that our Connect leaders can download them," Denton said. "They're basically his outline of what he taught, what he's teaching this month, and then some suggested questions for discussion."

Counselor Lafon Jantz, who with her husband, Greg, runs the Center for Counseling and Health Resources, said whatever media Treat uses are less important than "what it is he's teaching, and the message."

"The message preached at Christian Faith Center is a message of hope," Jantz said. "We're not just coming here to see Casey; we're here because we're part of the body of believers, and this has become a family for us."

And as for success? Among other things, it's about hard work, Treat said. In his sermons, he is open about his failures and mistakes, including drug abuse as a teenager. He entered a Christian rehab center, where he found his calling. He alludes to that, and the message is clear:

"Look how my life has changed. Yours can, too."

"We were part of the foundation of Christian Faith Center, and even though we've been here all these many years, I still look around and think, 'How'd this happen?' " Willis said. "I've been here all this time, but really, how'd this happen?

"I've lived it, I've worked it, and I'm still in awe of what goes on."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published May 9, 2007, was corrected May 10, 2007. A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Brent Seavey as a former real-estate agent. Seavey is currently a Realtor.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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