Congregations across the nation were watching the news unfold last week in New York as The Bronx Household of Faith won back the right to hold worship services at P.S. 291, a public grade school. The measure may be temporary and doesn’t cover other congregations meeting in schools.
This is an important issue for churches in other states to watch. According to reports, NY City started revoking the churches’ permits after an earlier 2nd Circuit decision upheld the no-worship policy and the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing the case. At the heart of the issue is determining the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that prohibits endorsement of religion.
The New York Senate approved a bill that would allow school buildings to be used for religious meetings and worship when not in use for school purposes. The bill will end the battle if it continues to meet approval in the state assembly.
The call to help with the battle has been picked up by other worship leaders including Tim Keller, pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church who released a statement calling the ban unwise. “It is my conviction that those churches housed in schools are invaluable assets to the neighborhoods that they serve.”
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (CA) is taking a more direct approach by encouraging NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg to reverse the ban. Warren used 140 characters to voice his opinion by tweeting on Feb. 12, “Pray for all NYC churches who’ve been kicked out of meeting in schools as of today. Tell @MikeBloomberg it hurts his city.”
For years, churches have been meeting in public spaces.Saving money for mission work is just one of the reasons some churches are going building-free. Others say attending a church without a steeple removes barriers. It feels more comfortable to go to a school campus or a community center for a service. “You don’t need a permanent building to preach the Gospel,” said Mike Passaro, Summit Church Worship Leader (NC). “The Gospel at its core is a message. It travels anywhere and to any location.” But, you do need to have a place to meet without fear of eviction.
If other states follow with banning weekly worship services in public schools, it would cause a domino effect with churches including Summit RDU needing to find another place to hold worship.
It’s a lot of work for Summit Church with a campus at Cary High School to transform the buildings into a place of worship. For a children’s ministry program, it can be overwhelming. “Setting up 10 classrooms means thinking about a ground up approach,” said Courtney Bryant, Summit Kids Leader. Special flooring is required for the babies and toddlers. Lots of bottles of antibacterial gel are also needed. “Think about it. During the week hundreds of high school kids are in these rooms and now we are using the space as a nursery.”
The extra effort is bringing positive results. The church’s first meeting on August 28 drew more than 600 attendees. Campus Pastor RJ Hoggard didn’t know what to expect. The core group of around 125 began meeting in May at the South Venue of Summit Church’s main campus in Durham. “This is evidence that God is working,” said Hoggard. “It’s been fun to watch.”
Summit Church has been a good neighbor to Cary High by donating equipment and helping with other needs at the school. Isn’t that what a church is at its best – a good neighbor?
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