Fla. Church Rejects City's Attempts to Move 'Prayer and Produce' Indoors

City: Church's Charity at Odds With City Regulation

A Florida church's produce stand operated in its parking lot has garnered controversy over its potential violation of zoning regulations.

"Prayer and Produce," an outdoor food stand charity run by Believers Fellowship Word of Faith Church in Lakeland, has been told by city officials that their produce stand is in violation of zoning regulations.

Jon Friedt, associate pastor at Believers Fellowship Word, told The Christian Post that Lakeland officials were overstepping their bounds with this issue.

"The overshadowing issue is not the stand itself but rather the encroachment of government on the work of the ministry," said Friedt. "If we do not stand up for this right we will be giving yet another freedom away that was clearly and rightfully ours."

According to Friedt, "Prayer and Produce" was the product of a garden his church started in the summer of 2010 to address issues of food preparedness.

"That garden ministry grew as we learned and taught how to grow crops and store and preserve the produce," he explained.

"As the garden got bigger we were able to broaden our scope and reach beyond our church attendees and those from the community that were working the garden."

Kevin Cook, director of Communications for the City of Lakeland, told CP that the zoning issues the city had with the "Prayer and Produce" focused on the stand being outside in a residential zone.

"The area is zoned residential and [them] operating a produce stand by city rules and regulations is considered commercial," said Cook.

"We have met with the church and let them know, they can continue to operate a produce market and help the less fortunate but based on the zoning of their operation, it needs to happen inside their church or at another location that is appropriately zoned."

According to Cook, on multiple occasions a code enforcement officer went to the church and informed Friedt of the apparent violation, which Friedt countered was not an issue.

"My church and the churches of the majority of those serving on the City Commission have food and other outreach ministries providing for those who need assistance and a helping hand. The city is not opposed to their existence or operation," said Cook.

Friedt believed that by moving the produce stand indoors "many elderly, poor, hungry and sick people will find it much more difficult to obtain the foods that they need to eat."

"We cannot accept this as an option but rather see it as a move to confine the work of the ministry into the walls of an organization," said Friedt.

As Believers Fellowship seeks to garner support from the community, church leaders have expressed support for their ministry but hesitation at supporting their side of the zoning regulation dispute.

Dr. John B. "Mike" Loudon, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, told CP that while he appreciates the work the church does, "the law is the law."

"What the good people with the Prayer and Produce ministry is doing is admirable and I pray that God blesses their ministry," said Loudon, speaking on his own behalf.

"But being a good citizen and good neighbor requires one to abide by the zoning regulations. Churches are not exempt."

Loudon drew a parallel to a situation his congregation was in a few years ago regarding efforts to post signs advertising for their church.

"A few years ago our congregation printed and distributed yard signs for people to put in their yards advertising a new worship service we were starting," said Loudon.

"When we did we were soon informed by the city code enforcement that such yard signs were only permitted to remain in the yards for two or three weeks and no longer. So, we asked people to remove them after three weeks."

Believers Fellowship Word of Faith Church and the City of Lakeland will present their case at a public meeting on Friday before a hearing officer.

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