A cease and desist letter was sent to a house church in Rogers, Minn., after a complaint was allegedly filed by a neighbor about the Sunday morning gatherings.
“Please cease operations as a place of assembly immediately. Should operations continue, you may be subject to citations or fines,” says a letter sent to the homeowners by Rogers Community Development Director Brett Angell.
The letter explains that zoning ordinances require religious assembly to be a “principal use” of a property, not an “accessory use.”
In Rogers city code, religious assembly is defined as: “A building, together with its accessory buildings and uses, where persons regularly assemble for religious worship and which building, together with its accessory buildings and uses, is maintained and controlled by a religious body organized to sustain public worship.”
“The use of your residence as a religious assembly is in direct violation of this code. Lastly, this use would be in violation of Minnesota State Fire Code and Minnesota Building Code,” the letter says.
The city informed Alpha News that the complaint referenced parking and traffic issues stemming from the use of the home as a church. “The City did allow time for a response and has been actively working with the property on finding an adequate solution,” Angell told Alpha News.
He does not believe the city is violating the homeowners’ First Amendment rights.
“By no means are the occupants restricted from exercising their right to practicing religion. The violation pertains to issues surrounding the zoning code related to operation of business (which includes non-profit uses) from a single family home,” Angell said.
The pastor of The Edge Christian Fellowship, Martin Bownik, claimed the city has not been receptive to his repeated efforts to find a solution. “I asked them, is it parking? Let me know what we can do. Is it people? Let me know what that is, because the state fire code doesn’t explain,” he said.
“Twelve years ago we launched a house church model. If my neighbors were going to complain, they would’ve done it 12 years ago,” Bownik explained. Around 22 people attend his church services. “Most Thanksgiving gatherings are larger than our church,” he joked.
On an average Sunday morning, the house church has around five to seven extra cars, most of which are parked in the driveway, with any others parked along the street of their corner lot, according to Bownik.
Bownik said that on the day before Thanksgiving he received the cease and desist letter, so he went down to City Hall, where he was told that all relevant staff members were on vacation. He said he needed to speak with someone regarding the matter since the city told him to close up immediately.
The city then decided to give him until Dec. 6 before it would begin issuing any fines or citations. He said the city also warned him that his Wednesday night Bible study might be a violation of city codes, depending on the number of people who attend.
“How is this possible when at the Pampered Chef party, they have more cars and more people than we do as a house church?” Bownik said.
He explained that in email exchanges with Angell, the city wouldn’t answer what the fine would be for violations. According to Bownik, the city told him to stream his Christmas service if he can’t find a new location in time.
“You might as well come get me now,” Bownik said, saying he plans to go forward with his Sunday morning services.