(Photo: Facebook/The Gallery Church)
A popular BBQ restaurant in NYC has responded to claims that it chose to stop hosting a local Christian church's worship services due to sermons regarding homosexuality.
Hill Country Barbecue Market, an eatery located in New York City's lower west side, said in a recent statement on behalf of its public relations firm, Baltz & Company Inc., that it chose to discontinue its relationship with The Gallery Church, a local Christian ministry, due to an "unanticipated community response" from the local neighborhood.
"Our intention was to provide the Church with a place to congregate, which we thought we could do without implying a religious affiliation between our two organizations," Marc Glosserman, owner of Hill Country restaurant, told The Blaze in an email.
"Over the following weeks, based on unanticipated community response, it became clear to us that this would not be possible," Glosserman continued.
Glosserman went on to add that when the restaurant and the church agreed to a month-to-month rental agreement back in March, the contract was meant as "an initial trial arrangement," which ultimately didn't work out.
The controversy began when Freddy Wyatt, pastor of The Gallery Church, wrote a blog post announcing that the BBQ restaurant had chosen not to renew its month-to-month rental contract with the church due to sermons regarding homosexuality. The pastor said that his church had initially made plans to rent the space at the restaurant earlier this year because the church's congregation had grown in number and could no longer worship at its previous location.
Wyatt wrote that once his church began worshipping at the Hill Country restaurant, their attendance jumped by 20 people, and about 10 percent of the congregants stuck around after the service to dine at the establishment.
The worship services had been taking place every Sunday at the restaurant, until the church made plans to preach a sermon about same-sex attraction, according to Wyatt.
"After only meeting in our new space for a couple of months, we were asked to leave. The restaurant that was hosting us had received significant backlash from the neighborhood for hosting a Christian church in their space," Wyatt wrote on his blog post on The City Resource website.
"The backlash came before the sermon was even preached yet was enough to motivate the restaurant to end their partnership with us," Wyatt added.
The pastor went on to argue that although the church was paying a sizeable rent of $25,000 per year for the restaurant space as well as $150 to the restaurant's sound technician, "disassociating from a Christian church was more valuable" to the restaurant than the money.
Wyatt added in an interview with Fox News' Todd Starnes that the church's particular series of sermons regarding sexuality struck a nerve with those in the neighborhood.
"This particular sermon series struck a nerve in the neighborhood," Wyatt said. "There was an enormous amount of backlash. We don't know specifically what that was. The restaurant said if it had only been a couple of phone calls it would have been one thing – but it was more than that."
Wyatt had declined to tell Starnes the name of the restaurant to avoid giving the location bad publicity, but Fox News ultimately figured out the name of the restaurant on its own.
Although the rental agreement between the restaurant and the church has ended, Wyatt has maintained a good relationship with the local eatery, writing an update in his blog post in which he sought to clarify that there were no ill feelings between the establishment and his congregation.
"Please join us, Gallery Church in responding with neighborly love and grace toward our friends at Hill Country Barbecue Market. We look forward to continuing our friendships, finding tangible ways to bless our neighbors, and will continue to eat at Hill Country Barbecue Market," Wyatt wrote.
The Gallery Church has reportedly found a new place for worship, a venue called The Gallery Kid, a larger building still located on the lower west side of NYC.