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Pastor faces charges for sheltering homeless people during harsh winter but the internet sides with him

With the pastor being unfairly accused of zoning laws and safety, the church filed a lawsuit against the city and expected a verdict.

Pastor faces charges for sheltering homeless people during harsh winter but the internet sides with him
Cover Image Source: YouTube | @WTVGToledo

Times are tough right now, with affordable living becoming a massive issue for most. And to add more to the bitter cold winters, life is a nightmare for the homeless. Among many individuals and organizations in the country helping the homeless, Dad's Place church in Bryan, Ohio, was one of them. Pastor Chris Avell of the Evangelical church was charged with violating zoning protocols and maintaining unsafe conditions, as per the Associated Press. Online communities, and likely divine sentiment, rallied in support of the pastor amid the accusations.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Em Hopper
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Em Hopper

Pastor Avell simply kept his church open 24/7, offering shelter to the city's homeless against the brutal winter. Nearly 18 criminal charges were filed against him by the police. The city's allegations included inadequate kitchen and laundry facilities, improper ventilation, unsafe exits and violation of zoning ordinances. Pleading not guilty to the court, the pastor added that shutting down the 24/7 ministry might take away the ray of hope. Dad's Place filed a lawsuit against the city for depriving them of religious freedom. Until the judges consider its injunction, the shrine would be open for people in need of its services.


The defendants of the church's lawsuit are the city's Mayor, Carrie Schlade and a few more city officials. Lawyer Marc Fishel, who represented the city in this suit, claimed the city never treated the sacred place inappropriately and pointed out the Mayor had offered great support during its commencement 4 years ago. "The city has been and continues to be interested in any business, any church, any entity complying with local and state law," they added. Despite these claims, the city acted against the church because of the suspicions of "inappropriate activities" like criminal mischief, theft, trespassing and lack of proper permits to house people on the first floor.

"It was city police officers who would bring people by. The local hospital would call and bring people by. Other homeless shelters would call and bring people by," said Avell, US News reported. As per the church's policy, "unless there is a biblically valid reason for doing so or if someone at the property poses a danger to himself or others," the church authorities have the right to let people stay in there overnight. The "Rest and Refresh in the Lord" ministry takes place between 11 pm and 8 am, during which anyone can take shelter in the shrine and two volunteers, a peacemaker and a security guard, monitor the place during the ministry.


In an effort to comply, the church undertook renovations, including refurbishing the kitchen. Still, the pastor was not spared by the city and he found the charges "humiliating." The church requested a federal judge to pass a restraining order that would keep the city and top officials from "enforcing or applying the city's ordinances to burden the plaintiff's religious exercise." In the church's Facebook post announcing the 24/7 warming station for the homeless, many expressed their support for the pastor. "The government is always trying to punish good people. Someone who actually wants to help the homeless. Instead of complaining because they exist," wrote Tim Ricket. "I have just heard about the situation. I am not a churchgoer, but I stand by what you are doing and respect you for it," commented Liminal Corvidae Hideaway.


On February 6, Bryan Municipal Court dismissed the case against Avell on an agreement that Dad's Place would work together with the city's protocols, failing which charges would be refiled, as per WTVG. With a few negotiations under process for a final verdict, Dad's Place was asked to acquire adequate building certifications and zoning permits. Mayor Carrie Schlade said in a statement that both parties have "resolved their differences amicably" and the continued functioning of Dad's Place will be overseen for safety concerns. Feeling grateful about the resolution, Avell told the media channel, "Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love."


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