09/29/2013 10:26 EDT | Updated 11/29/2013 05:12 EST

Church rock fills former Vancouver show theatre

Evangelical worshippers have turned downtown Vancouver's Centre for Performing Arts into a house of God.

Sunday morning marked the first service to be held by the Westside Church in the former home of travelling Broadway shows. The conversion of the space known as The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts from a show venue into a church was controversial for some, but Pastor Norm Funk said the new venue will provide his church with some needed permanence.

"We've been going from place to place to place over the last eight years of our existence," he said. "There's kind of just an opportunity to kind of lock down, be known that we're at a specific spot, and just increase what we're doing now already, in grander measure."

Westside doesn't offer a traditional religious service. There are no prayer books and no pews — congregants each take a theatre seat. And as the service got underway Sunday morning, rock music and the voices of more than 1,200 people filled the air where show tunes once rang out.

Theatre's troubled financial history

The 1,800-seat theatre at 777 Homer St. was originally built in 1995 with a $27-million price tag, and was originally named the Ford Theatre, but closed three years later due to financial trouble.

In 2001, it was bought for $7.8 million and renamed The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

Funk wouldn't reveal how much Westside paid this year for its new house of worship, which it has renamed The Centre.

Local producer and arts consultant Brent Belsher laments that loss of the arts venue, which also hosted concerts, ballet performances and comedy shows.

"It's sad. It could have been used so much better. I would have loved to have seen it. I was hoping maybe I could be that person... to get that theatre working better, but that chance is gone now," Belsher said.

Funk says he understands the upset over the conversion of the theatre into a place of worship.

"In losing a space like this, I get how that's hard on people. Our desire is not to be exclusive in terms of what we do to just be for us," he said.

Funk points to recent Vancouver International Film Festival events, such as the Q&A session with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, and upcoming bookings such as the Goh Ballet's production of The Nutcracker in December.

"Hopefully, even though maybe there's some reservations to us being here, we show that we are going to be good neighbours," he said.