Faith-based groups have more questions than answers as they continue to fight the City of London’s recent zoning by-law infraction handed to First Baptist Church and the Ark Aid Street Mission.
As parishioners gather for service at First Baptist Church, outside the homeless sleep in tents on a rainy Sunday morning.
They use the Ark Aid Street Mission in the basement of the church on a daily basis for food and showers.
“It’s despicable that anyone would consider taking things away from the homeless right now. You look at the great work that Ark Aid does feeding 300 people a day. We’re in a crisis,” said London North Centre MPP Terence Kenaghan.
However a complaint by businesses in the area has prompted the city to issue a zoning by-law non-compliance order, leaving Ark Aid looking for answers.
“We basically want to understand how the definition for a place of worship does not apply to either Ark Aid street mission as a faith-based organization serving people in charitable ways. How do we not fit within the place of worship designation for zoning?” questioned Sarah Campbell of Ark Aid Street Mission.
Downtown city councillor John Fyfe Millar says it is strictly a zoning issue with a commercial tenant in -the lower level of the church.
“This is not a question about the work that Ark Aid does. We know how important it is. We know what it means to the community and we know the compassion that they bring. But if not here, let’s work together to come up with a solution,” said Fyfe-Millar.
Across the city, Rector Kevin George has started a petition looking for support, which has received hundreds of signatures. He feels administration needs to review their definition of general assembly
“They have dozens of churches booked for polling stations during the upcoming municipal election. Well, should we all look at our leases that we have with the city right now and ask if we’re breaking the zoning bylaw by having a general assembly for an election on municipal election day?” said George.
While a complaint has come to the city regarding the vulnerable people living around Victoria Park, those attending the church are in full support of Ark Aid.
“This is a core part of who we are and unfortunately it sends kind of a chilling note to all faith-based organizations to sort of suggest, okay, is that are we going to be facing this kind of scenario where we’ve got bylaw kind of issues that we additionally have to address when, when in fact, really what I think we all want to be doing, I think all Londoners of any stripe, want to be helping out the most vulnerable in the community as best we can,” said parishioner, Gord MacDonald.
The city has given three options to Ark Aid and extended its compliance deadline to Oct. 20.