Controversial New Church Can't Find New Home; Asks SPS To Honor Lease
A controversial new church to the Saugatuck area that signed a lease to hold Sunday services at Saugatuck Public Schools and later announced it would seek another location when several community members voiced their opposition, now says it wants the school board to honor that lease since it has been unable to find a new place.
The Saugatuck Public School Board took no action following Monday’s closed-session meeting with its legal counsel regarding its one-year lease agreement with Third Coast Church, which has yet to find an alternate location to hold its Sunday services.
An offshoot of Holland’s Ridge Point Community Church, the planting church caused a stir among a number of parents and community members due to alleged anti-gay undertones and concerns of possible violations of the separation of church and state constitutional clause.
Although some have spoke in favor of Third Coast, most who have spoken at public meetings have expressed disapproval of the lease arrangement.
During the rental time on Sunday mornings, Third Coast has access to the high school auditorium, cafeteria, and the teacher’s lounge. The existing rental agreement ends on September 3, 2017. After criticism arose after the school/church lease became public, Third Coast Pastor Aaron Brown at the February 6 school board meeting announced his church would seek an alternative location for his church planting.
Some opponents to having the church using the school property pointed to letters and online posted writings by Brown they say raised issues of he and the church appearing to hold anti-gay feelings.
Brown was adamant his church organization respected and honored the community’s perspective and those with different sexual orientations.
However, at this point, the church has not found that alternate location and is asking the school district to honor its existing lease agreement.
“After spending the month of February researching and touring all possible rental facilities in the area, we’ve determined that there is not another feasible rental option immediately available to us. We’re making this decision based on the need to seat 200 adults and have recreation space for 50 children at the same time,” Brown wrote, in part, in his March 3 letter to the school.
“Because of this, we are now pursuing purchase options in the community as our next step. We have two leads and are starting to do more research,” he continued.
“Our hope is that you’ll honor our current lease agreement as we try to transition into a new facility before this fall. If it would be helpful, we are willing to renegotiate our lease to end shortly before students return from summer break in order to minimize tension as a new year starts.”
During one of the public comment sessions, Ridge Point Community Church member Jennifer Klein publicly stated she was a lesbian, and that she, her wife, and her two children felt very welcomed and comfortable at the church.
On the other hand, critics argue that one of Ridge Point Church’s largest benefactors is multi-millionaire Elsa Prince, a relentless pursuer of anti-gay legislation for many years.
The school district also drew criticism for alleged lack of transparency, particularly that Saugatuck Public School Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman had signed the lease agreement with little to no open dialogue with parents and the board about the deal.
School officials, including some board members, contend the move was not illegal and not unlike many other rental arrangement districts make with church organizations throughout the state of Michigan.
“We are asking the public for its patience, taking every possible step to assure we learn all that is legal and not legal for the district to do relative to concerns expressed by the community,” Timmerman told The Observer Newspapers Wednesday morning.
“We are listening to people, but it does take time to resolve issues in a correct way. We will have an open session once we know what we will be doing,” he added.