Bob Crittenden
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March 1, 2024

During the recent winter months, amidst freezing temperatures, we were provided an opportunity to remember those who do not have adequate shelter and be thankful for ministries and other organizations who reach out to those without a home.

Chris Avell is the pastor of a church called Dad’s Place in Bryan, Ohio. He has a heart for the homeless in his city, and kept his church building open day and night in order to serve the community.

For that, he was arrested; The Christian Post reported that Avell “…was arraigned in municipal court…after being slapped with 18 zoning law violation charges related to keeping his church open around the clock to house the homeless.” Avell pled not guilty, and his attorney, Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel at First Liberty, said: “…the city of Bryan, Ohio, arraigned Pastor Chris on criminal charges for having his church open 24/7,” adding, “He pled ‘not guilty,’ as any pastor should who is simply doing what churches throughout history have done: care for those who walk through their doors no matter the time of day.”

The police chief “forwarded a Dec. 13 press release from the police department explaining that the city’s zoning and engineering department ‘received a complaint in regards to people living’ at Dad’s Place on Nov. 3.” The Christian Post related that “A court filing states that because Dad’s Place is zoned as Central Business, the building is prohibited from allowing people to eat, wash clothes, or sleep on the property.” There were allegedly fire code violations at the building, as well.

The story goes on to say:

According to First Liberty Institute, Avell decided last March to keep his church open all the time because the neighboring local homeless shelter was often full, forcing some of the town’s homeless to stay outside. He claimed his church has since been able to help at least 100 people who are struggling with homelessness.

The director of operations at the Sanctuary of Williams County Homeless Shelter supports what Avell’s church is doing, according to First Liberty Institute.

“The city, churches and community in general should work together. We need to work together to help people in need,” the director said. “There is nowhere else for these people in Williams County to go. We have to turn away around 600 people every year.”

In an Fox News interview, Avell said, “I was spiritually homeless, and God provided a home for me in Heaven,” adding, “He’s put a burden on my heart for them. Many of these people have been rejected by their families and cast aside by their communities. So, if the church isn’t willing to lay down her life for them, who will? This is what we’re called to do.”

In late January, First Liberty announced it was filing a federal lawsuit against the City of Bryan, Ohio. Its website states that the organization and two other law firms “…filed a federal lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order against Bryan, Ohio and city officials seeking to shut down the religious activities of Dad’s Place and Pastor Chris Avell.”

Then, a promising development occurred in the case – on February 8, a statement was posted on the First Liberty website, stating, in part:

First Liberty Institute and city officials in Bryan, Ohio announced today that the city has agreed to drop all criminal charges against Dad’s Place Pastor Chris Avell. Dad’s Place has in turn agreed to cease residential operations and to seek proper building certifications, and zoning permits for the operations it plans to pursue together with the installation of any necessary safety measures associated with those permits.

Local churches can demonstrate the love of Christ by being sensitive to needs in their communities, to reach out to people around them, whom God has strategically placed in order that they may encounter His love. All Chris Avell desired to do was to share the love of Jesus, but his compassion has caused him to run afoul of the city and could result in criminal penalties. He made the decision that he would obey God by ministering to the people who were sent his way.

I agree with Jeremy Dys, who has been a guest on The Meeting House on Faith Radio numerous times, who said that Pastor Chris was operating according to the practice of historic Christian faith. The local homeless shelter director stressed the importance of working together. Certainly there are many wonderful service agencies in our communities that do excellent work; and we should always make sure we see the role of the Church in bringing light to people in need – that includes not only physical needs, but spiritual, as well, recognizing that the meeting of physical needs can provide a door through which spiritual needs can be addressed through Christ.

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Bob Crittenden
Since 2004 Bob has been the host of Faith Radio's “The Meeting House,” a program of music and conversation heard weekday afternoons from 4 until 6.

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