Oregon Pastor Vows to Defy City Ordinance Seeking to Restrict Church’s Ability to Feed Homeless

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The pastor of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, Oregon has vowed to defy a new city ordinance that seeks to restrict his church’s ability to minister to the homeless in its neighborhood.

“This is the way we express our religion, by feeding people,” Rev. Bernie Lindley told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Lindley says that the matter of his church providing warm meals to the homeless is a matter of its First Amendment right to exercise the ministry’s deeply-held convictions and that a city ordinance restricting meals to just two nights a week violates this sacred right.

When the pandemic hit last year, St. Timothy’s managed to obtain permits to house the homeless in its parking lot, which Lindley said caused some disturbances in the neighborhood as some mentally fraught individuals experienced mental breakdowns and psychotic episodes.

He believes that this was why a petition to limit the number of meals was first introduced to the city council.

The petition was signed by residents that live near the church, and the subsequent city ordinance is based on the claim that the municipality has the authority to restrict free meals as facilities that provide them are licensed in the same way that restaurants are, and restaurants are not permitted to operate within residential zones.

“If they were in commercial zones, there would be no limitations to the frequency, or the hours, or the number of days a week,” Brookings City Manager Janelle Howard told OPB.

All of Brookings’ churches are in residential neighborhoods and will now be required to apply for permits to distribute meals, which will be limited to just twice weekly.

“I think that was the original intention throughout the history of the United States of America for churches to be in residential areas,” Lindley said. St. Timothy’s was built in the 40’s, long before the city ever had zoning designations.

The biblical imperative to feed the hungry is much, much older, of course, and it is also the authority that Lindley intends to obey first and foremost.

“We’re not going to stop feeding,” he declared. “They’re going to have to handcuff me and take me to jail, which they won’t do. So it’s not going to happen; we’re not going to stop feeding. We’re going to do what Christ compels us to do.”

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