First English Lutheran Church, Richmond, Va., is "doing what churches are supposed to do," says Richard A. Olson, pastor. The city's board of zoning appeals disagrees. In November the board affirmed a city ruling and banned a meal ministry to the homeless.
Neighbors filed comp laints with the city after the program was moved in June from Pace Memorial United Methodist Church to First English's more residential area. The 15-year-old program, operated by the Stuart Circle Parish, an ecumenical group of six area churches, needed m ore space. About 75 to 100 homeless people are served meals on Sunday afternoons.
The city council ruled that meal programs can be held seven times a year in residential areas. The zoning administrator ruled that the project isn't allowed b ecause it constitutes "an accessory use" for First English's building since a "feeding program isn't usual activity at a church."
The program is a "principal use," Olson said. "We are carrying out our faith. We are doing what religious bodi es should do — feed the poor." The parish is considering taking the issue to court, citing violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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