Pottstown Borough Citations Beg the Question: Isn’t a Church Doing Church Work a Church?

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women working in a kitchen
Image via Mission First at WHYY.
Mission First, an outreach of the First United Methodist Church in Pottstown, has been cited by the borough zoning board for activities like this community lunch for residents in need.

Pottstown Borough’s zoning board seems to believe that when churches stray beyond preaching, scripture, and hymn singing, their activities deserve official oversight. That’s the apparent reason behind two High Street churches — First United Methodist and Christ Episcopal — recently receiving zoning citations for their community outreaches. Using divine inspiration, Emily Rizzo covered the story for WHYY.

The borough’s beef with the two religious institutions centers on the community resources they provide to needy residents. Both organizations were cited for actions officially characterized as “…more than that of a church.”

Those activities at First United Methodist’s Mission First included its provision of:

  • A community closet
  • A 24/7 food pantry
  • Public charging station for electronics
  • A Weekly free meal

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Clare Schilling, director of Mission First. “Everything we do is what a church should be doing… . We’re feeding the needy; we’re helping the community.”

She further cited that her congregation’s work helped more than just the homeless population of Pottstown. Several local seniors, seeking a budget friendly meal and perhaps some socialization, come by the mission regularly.

Both churches have until July 10 to contest the citation or apply for a zoning variance to continue their activities.

Schilling said her worship site will appeal but not submit the variance request. Absent a borough back-down, her next step, she says, is district court.

More on this story is at WHYY.

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