Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Nov. 15 @ 2:56 p.m.
Despite Contrary Statements From Brookings Staff, St. Tim's Father Bernie Says Church Opposes New 'Benevolent Meal Service' Regs
Three Brookings City Councilors on Monday agreed to change regulations governing when local charities, including churches, can feed the hungry.
The new “benevolent meal service” ordinance increases the number of days per week organizations can feed the hungry from two to three. However, it reduces the number of hours per day charities can offer those meal services from three to two. That two-hour window must fall between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and charities still need a conditional use permit, according to Public Works and Development Services Tech Lauri Ziemer.
Councilors Isaac Hodges and Andy Martin and Council President Ed Schreiber approved the amended benevolent meal service ordinance. It was one of Schreiber’s final acts as a Brookings elected official since he was recalled on Nov. 7.
Schreiber's colleagues, former Mayor Ron Hedenskog and Councilor Michelle Morosky, had resigned on Monday after it appeared that they too would be recalled, according to unofficial election night results from Nov. 7.
The new "benevolent meal service" regulations come about two years after Brookings officials adopted the original ordinance in an effort to remove homeless individuals from the Azalea Park neighborhood near St. Timothy Episcopal Church.
Once the original set of regulations went into effect in January 2022, the church violated the ordinance and filed suit in federal court arguing that the city was violating its constitutional rights, including the First Amendment, which protects religious freedoms.
On Monday, Ziemer implied, without mentioning the church’s name, that St. Timothy supported the proposed change to the number of days organizations can provide meals to the community.
“The reasons for those considered changes were one unpermitted provider through their attorney’s summary judgment (request) had expressed potential interest that the existing ordinance doesn’t allow them enough days to provide meals on their existing schedule, which is three days per week,” Ziemer told Councilors.
The proposed changes also allow organizations to offer meals every day of the week "as was the initial desire of the benevolent meal providers," Ziemer said. The new regulations also provides more flexibility if a provider has to close due to an emergency, she said.
"Other providers could pick up an additional day or two without the city needing to adopt an emergency resolution," Ziemer said.
The City of Brookings also submitted a request for summary judgment to the U.S. District Court on Oct. 6.
St. Timothy’s pastor, Reverend Bernie Lindley, told the Wild Rivers Outpost that the church “absolutely did not request” the ordinance change. A letter to the City Council conveyed the same sentiments concerning the proposed changes.
“The one thing that kind of confuses me is we feed four days a week, so what’s three days a week got to do with anything?” Lindley told the Outpost on Wednesday.
Lindley also added that to the best of his knowledge, the church’s recent request for a summary judgment made no such statement either.
Submitted to the United States District Court of Oregon in Medford on Oct. 6, the church’s request for a summary judgment states that St. Timothy Episcopal Church is the only church in the area that offers meals more than two days per week.
It also refers to the city’s April 14, 2023, abatement notice, which threatened to fine the church $720 per day for operating a “benevolent meal service” without a conditional use permit.
“It is undisputed that without St. Timothy’s feeding ministry operating more than two days per week, there would be several days each week when no free meal would be available to people in need in Brookings,” the church’s request for summary judgment states. “The ordinance thus forces plaintiffs to choose between acting in accordance with their faith or facing a fine of $720 per day.”
St. Timothy has appealed that abatement notice, which the City Council is currently reviewing. However, current city action against the church’s soup kitchen is being suspended due to the federal dispute. The city still takes issue with the church’s day program, legal clinic and case worker and advocacy programs, however.
According to Sister Cora Rose, an ordained deacon with the Lutheran Church and an attorney who runs St. Timothy’s legal aid clinic, the summary judgment motions have not been heard yet. She said she doesn’t anticipate a hearing date scheduled before 2024.
On Monday, before the Council voted, Robert O’Sullivan, a retired high school social studies and English teacher and a Lutheran pastor, schooled them on the meaning of the word bailiwick and whether regulating a church’s ministry was within theirs.
O’Sullivan likened increasing the number of days churches can feed the hungry from two to three to moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.
“You should cut your losses or the people’s losses — they’re going to be paying for this if you have a lawsuit that goes on for another two or three years,” he said. “Please. You’re out of your bailiwick. You should not be doing this and it’s time you recognize that the best thing you can do is not to amend that ordinance, but simply to end it.”