Should religious groups be allowed to rent and use public schools for worship services? Why or why not?
Yes, they should. I’ve followed this story because I once pastored a church that met in a school, and because one of the NYC churches affected is pastored by the son of a couple in my church. New York Judge Pierre Leval’s opinion that holding religious services in a public space consecrates that place, thus making it a church, is not how the churches themselves see their use of those spaces. Judge Leval’s “consecration” rationale as legal judgment is thin. A school building is now holy ground because a church gathers there on Sundays when the building is otherwise unused? Christians do have theologies of sacred space, but Judge Leval’s rationale confuses consecration with superstition.
What is afoot in NYC is nothing less than unjust discrimination. There are no good reasons of logic or legality for the city to ban its churches from renting public schools for Sunday meeting space.
We’re not talking about large churches overpowering the public schools of NYC. The 68 churches about to lose meeting places this Sunday in the boroughs of NYC are mostly small churches. These churches are neighborhood churches and mostly welcome in their neighborhoods because the people in the churches live there too, loving their neighbors and addressing their social problems with mercy ministries. Most of these churches are also welcomed by the administrators of the schools they meet in. They see the churches as assets to the communities their kids come from.
The son of the couple in my church is Jon Storck. With his permission, below is the letter he wrote this week to the Woodside Herald, a NYC newspaper that covers Jon’s Sunnyside, Queens, community. His church meets in Public School 150:
An Open Letter to The Neighborhood
Over the last couple of months I have been engaged in a movement to see legislation passed that would allow houses of worship, mostly Christian churches, to continue to have the same access as other organizations to rent vacant space in New York City Public Schools when schools are not in session. Yesterday, the State Senate passed bi-partisan legislation that would allow us to stay by a 55-to-7 vote.
Our congregation, Grace Fellowship Church, has been quietly meeting for nearly 7 years at PS 150 and until the last few weeks, had not heard any opposition to our presence there. Many of the people who now openly oppose the right of churches to meet in Public Schools because they fear we are engaging in hate-speech or discrimination against those that do not believe the way we do, did not even know we were present until just a few weeks ago, including City and State legislators.
Nevertheless, it is a non-negotiable core value of ours to cultivate a welcoming community within our congregation. It is, in fact, in our very Mission statement. And that means not just for those that think the way that we do, or vote the way we want them to, but even, and especially, for those that oppose us. The true mark of a Christian is not one who can vehemently stand and fight their opposition, but rather one who can love even one’s enemy.
I am therefore, writing the residents of this great community to let you know that should the legislation not pass in our favor, we will not leave PS 150 resentful or even thinking we have been mistreated. Wherever a new location is secured, I want to communicate that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, creed, race or even one’s position as to the rightness of our presence at PS 150, is always a welcome guest at GFC. In fact, I am confident that that is the welcome you would receive at many of the churches in our community. I encourage you to visit one. You might be surprised at what is really taught there.
Pastor Jon Storck