Recent reports that a church in Louisiana was ordered to stop passing out free water bottles and cups of coffee during a Mardi Gras parade have been unnecessarily sensationalized, a pastor revealed.
The situation at hand arose when Jefferson Parish officials approached volunteers from Hope Church in Metairie, La., telling them that they could not pass out free beverages along the parade route without the proper permits to do so.
According to Fox News, Hope Church did not know they had to secure an occupational license and register for a sales tax before passing out their water bottles labeled with the church's name and website address.
"There was an initial...violation issue and they asked us to stop giving out water," Matt Tipton, the head pastor of Hope Church, told The Christian Post over the phone.
Word of the incident, however, quickly spread and soon became a bigger issue than it actually was: a simple violation.
Accusing the local government of overreach, many in the public began to criticize the city officials for not only stopping the church from passing out free water but also for trying to gain money from their good deed.
Some even claimed it was just another example of the government's attack on the church.
But Tipton made clear that the rules for the permit did not just apply to churches but for anyone distributing anything during the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
"The rule isn't just for churches, it's for everybody," the church planter stressed. "The permit is not even really a major issue. Everybody else is making it an issue but it's not."
Though obtaining the permit was not a difficult task, getting the necessary paperwork would take longer than expected.
Exploring other options to serve the city during the event as a result, Hope Church called representatives from both the sheriff's department and the Jefferson Parish asking them what they could legally do to help since they could not distribute water.
After some discussion, the church decided to distribute hand sanitizer near the porta-potties, pumping the sanitizer out of a bucket and into the palms of more than 15,000 people.
"Volunteers had a great experience [and] our church had a great experience doing it," Tipton shared on Vimeo. "We got to serve the city, we got to love the people around us, we got to represent our church well during Mardi Gras and we also were in compliance with the permits."
Next year, the pastor stated that they would be able to get a permit easily and distribute their water bottles without any trouble.
"Through this experience Hope Church now has a better relationship with the city," Tipton added.
"Hope Church certainly loves both the people in the city and the officials and leaders in the city and I believe that the city has now gained an affection for Hope Church because we treated this with great grace and we were willing to work with them."
"The city's been really great to us and there isn't really a conflict between Hope Church and Jefferson Parish," Tipton told CP, dispelling rumors of controversy and conflict spreading throughout the public because of some media reports.
"It's sensationalism at its worst," he concluded.
Matt Tipton is the founder of Hope Church in Metairie, La. He and his wife Elaine began their ministry in 2010 after relocating to Louisiana from Tennessee. They live with their two children Anna and David in New Orleans.