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City drops criminal charges against Ohio pastor who sheltered homeless at church

Pastor Chris Avell (L) and his attorney Jeremy Dys (R) speak to reporters outside Bryan Municipal Court in Bryan, Ohio, on January 11, 2023.
Pastor Chris Avell (L) and his attorney Jeremy Dys (R) speak to reporters outside Bryan Municipal Court in Bryan, Ohio, on January 11, 2023. | First Liberty Institute

City officials in a small Ohio town have agreed to drop all criminal charges against a local pastor who was housing homeless people at his church in alleged violation of zoning laws.

Pastor Chris Avell of Dad's Place in Bryan — a town of approximately 8,400 people about 50 miles southwest of Toledo — was pulled into a dispute with the city when he decided to keep his church open 24/7 last March because the neighboring local homeless shelter was often full, according his lawyers at the Plano, Texas-based First Liberty Institute.

Avell was subsequently slapped with 18 zoning law violation charges related to keeping his church open, and his alleged zoning ordinance violations included lacking proper kitchen and laundry facilities, having unsafe exits, and using improper ventilation.

A court filing states that because Dad's Place is zoned as Central Business, the building was prohibited from allowing people to eat, wash clothes, or sleep on the property.

After the story drew national attention when Avell was arraigned in municipal court last month, the city of Bryan issued an extensive 42-page press release that included pages of documents related to the pastor's alleged zoning violations.

Avell pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers met with city leaders on Feb. 1 amid a pending lawsuit against them. On Jan. 22, First Liberty, along with the law firms Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and Spengler Nathanson PLL, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against the city on behalf of Avell.

Following their meeting, the city agreed to drop the charges against Avell, and he agreed to stop residential operations, acquire requisite building certifications and zoning permits, and install the necessary safety measures, according to his attorneys.

"I am thankful to God, the city, and for everyone who has been praying for this day to come," Avell said in a statement provided to The Christian Post. "Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love."

First Liberty senior counsel Jeremy Dys also praised the latest development in his client's case.

"We are grateful that the city of Bryan has dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell," Dys said. "Ministries like Dad’s Place provide vital public services to their communities. We will continue our conversations with city officials in hopes that we can find a final resolution where Dad’s Place can continue to serve those in need in its community."

Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade also praised the agreement, saying the city "appreciates the willingness of Dad’s Place to work with the city to resolve the parties’ differences amicably and to ensure that the services provided by Dad’s Place are delivered in a safe manner."

"The parties continue to work together in a concerted effort to bring the case to a final resolution," the mayor added.

Avell founded Dad's Place in 2018, and offers services to members of the community such as free haircuts, Bible studies, and other events, according to its Facebook page.

During an interview with Fox News about his situation, Avell was driven to tears explaining why he feels called to minister to the homeless in Bryan.

"I was spiritually homeless, and God provided a home for me in Heaven," he said. "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."

"And I can't help it, because I believe this is the mission of the church: to make disciples. And this is how we do it, by showing the love of Christ, preaching the truth, and laying down our lives in service and humility, as Christ laid down His life for us. That's what I believe."

Jon Brown is a reporter for The Christian Post. Send news tips to jon.brown@christianpost.com

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