June 8 marks a dark day in the history of Lexington. It is the day the Urban County Government's Board of Adjustment made history by closing a church.
This is the kind of action I heard about occurring in communist countries when I was a child during the 1950s. I served in the Vietnam War to protect our country from losing the guaranteed freedoms of our Constitution, the most precious being freedom of religion — freedom to worship, practice and live our faith freely in the United States.
As pastor of Emmanuel Apostolic Church at 824 Winchester Road, I am perplexed by the Herald-Leader's June 9 reporting on the Board of Adjustment's ruling to "revoke the conditional-use permit for the Community Inn, but gave supporters six months to find a new location for the homeless shelter," while not headlining that it was Emmanuel Apostolic Church's conditional-use permit that was revoked.
The Community Inn is our ministry that gives night shelter to the "least of my people." It is a part of our church, just as the choir is a vital part of our church. The Community Inn is not the entity that has been permitted to occupy 824 Winchester Road, nor the entity whose permit was revoked.
The revocation of the church's permit to operate should be of great concern to all our community: believers, non-believers, those who attend a community of faith, those who don't, citizens of every age, race, color, economic status. This decision will affect us all.
As was stated by a member of county planning staff: "This case will affect how we regulate churches."
That statement is chilling. Does it mean that the church that offers care 50 hours a week for our citizens who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, yet has only five hours a week of church services, will be declared a day-care center by the government?
Does the congregation that prepares and delivers Meals on Wheels for 25 hours a week, while offering church services three hours a week, need to be reclassified and move to an area zoned for restaurants?
I would also like to clarify other issues addressed in the article.
The church did receive all permits and occupancy permits required; meeting all fire, health and code-enforcement inspections with the government's knowledge that we were partnering with the Catholic Action Center to house the Community Inn. The latest occupancy permit was issued March 21, after permitted improvements to the building were made to meet fire regulations that would allow sleeping quarters to be set up in the upstairs office and meeting areas.
In a June 9 article, Board of Adjustment chairman Louis Stout said that Community Inn organizers should have laid out exactly what they wanted to do. "They did not do this. That left us to think this was going to be a Sunday-go-to-meeting church, and it has not been that," he said.
Never was the inclusion of Community Inn hidden. In fact, since its opening in April 2011, it has been one of the shelters listed on the city government Web site as available at night during emergency-weather conditions.
Maybe I am a simple man, but I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe he meant it when he commanded us to care for each other. I believe that church cannot just be a gathering place, not just about praying together to satisfy our spiritual needs, but a place that awakens us to live what God puts in our hearts in worship services.
I believe church is more than "Sunday-go-to meeting." I believe that if Christians gather to worship Jesus — who was a homeless man — yet forget our homeless the rest of the time, we aren't a church but just a social gathering place.
The Lord is working through us at 824 Winchester Road. We may be a small church, we may not be an affluent congregation, we may not start all services on time as the Herald-Leader reported in a May 12 article, but we are doing our best to be the kind of church Jesus Christ commanded us to be.