Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
- Hebrews 13:2 -
When does a church stop being a church? Does a church become something else when it provides more than a Sunday sermon? The Webster’s dictionary tells us that a church is 1. A building that is used for Christian religious services or ( 2 ) religious services held in a church or (3) a particular Christian group. Christians will tell you it is not the building that makes a church. It is what members of that particular religion do for the betterment of mankind. To live your life with the values that are learned from the Bible and the word of Jesus Christ. So if a church is continuing the work of Jesus Christ by providing food and shelter for those who have none, has the church that is used to stop being a church and become a dormitory?
In 2010 Seattle Washington had to find answers to these questions when a church program called the South Snohomish County Emergency Cold Weather Shelter Network, was halted due to the churches in question did not have fire sprinkler systems due to the age of the churches. Last week, Upper Darby Township halted a Delaware County program called Connect by Night that was to take place at Llanerch Hills Chapel. The director of License and Inspection Jeffery Gentile stated that was homeless people sleeping on the church’s floor in their community room was a “modification” of the churches purpose therefore the church would have to upgrade the fire prevention measures that are used in the said community room. The church has working smoke detectors but because the church was built 75 years ago there isn’t a sprinkler system. Phone calls to 10 other churches in Delaware County further proved that most churches of a certain age do not have the sprinkler system that Upper Darby L&I insists Llanerch Hills Chapel install. For programs such as Connect by Night this isn’t the first township to close down volunteer groups from housing the homeless for a short period of times. Edmond City, a suburb outside of Seattle, Washington, faced the same situation when Trinity Lutheran Church was told to shut down their homeless problem due to the lack of fire sprinklers in their community room of the church. According to www.myedmondnews.com in 2009,
Nearly two dozen church leaders and volunteers appeared at the Dec. 15, 2009 City Council meeting to request that the city relax its strict interpretation of the building code. Wilson introduced a resolution that applauded the work of community organizations who work to end homelessness and also directed city planners to review existing regulations and “incorporate the greatest amount of flexibility” possible to find a solution. “This is only vote we will take that will save lives,” Edmonds City Councilmember D.J. Wilson.
When it was time for the vote a compromise was reached. According to www.myedmondnews.com reported the compromise consisted of “An ordinance that excluded Edmonds churches from conforming to the sprinkler system requirement, as long as they have an operating smoke detector system and provide two volunteers who stay will awake each night to monitor for fires or violations of no smoking prohibitions. Before a roomful of church supporters, the council voted unanimously to approve the measure, opening the door for the Edmonds-based Jeremiah Center to offer emergency shelter beginning in the winter of 2010.”
In Upper Darby a compromise has not been introduced but with time area churches are hoping against hope, that the work they believe is only an extension of what a church really is, will be granted some type of solution that will allow these churches to continue their work with the homeless. Llanerch Hills Chapel and Upper Darby Township both want what is best for men and women who find themselves without shelter now it’s just finding a solution that will satisfy both.