On Aug. 31, Missiongathering Christian Church in North Park received a Civil Penalty Notice and Order from the city of San Diego, ordering that the church cease operations of their homeless youth shelter and cancel all rentals of their sanctuary, called “The Irenic” immediately— an action that will potentially cost the church an estimated tens of thousands of dollars before year end, and leave youth without a place to stay. The church has already laid off staff in the wake of the order and they may have to cease operations at the campus before the end of the year after the swift action by the city.
The order follows an inspection on July 31 to determine if the church was properly zoned and properly operating within city code after six years of uninterrupted operations. The city now says Missiongathering has transitioned from “Church Zoning” to “Music Venue/Nightclub Zoning.” In addition, the church must apply for a conditional use permit (CUP) because the Code only allows churches to host shelters 30 times a year without a permit, and the church hosts theirs for 50. According to a GoFundMe for the church, the CUP could cost close to $20,000 just to cover the 20 extra nights.
This notice also cited the church with more than 20 violations and informed them that they may be back-charged at a rate of $300 per violation, per day, since the inspectors first noticed them on July 31, 2019. The church plans to avoid penalties by immediately correcting all violations as identified. The church was informed that without obtaining a conditional use permit for both their sanctuary rentals and the shelter, they would not be able to continue operating these ministries.
The church held their last youth homeless shelter on Sept. 3 and informed the youth that had come to rely on the ministry they are no longer allowed to serve them. Before that, they operated a weekly homeless youth shelter, which provided a hot meal, a warm shower, a place to sleep, and connection to service that can help these individuals get off the street through a partnership with Urban Street Angels, one of the largest nonprofits combating youth homelessness in San Diego.
“We have partnered with Missiongathering Christian Church over the last three years to provide the only emergency overnight homeless shelter dedicated to homeless youth in the county,” said Eric Lovett, the executive director and founder of Urban Street Angels. “That is in jeopardy now with the city telling the church they have to stop. We hope the city and the church can sit down and work this out so we can continue the partnership with a church who is focused on serving those in need.”
In addition to the shelter, the church also rented out their sanctuary to host concerts at “The Irenic” for all-ages shows, the proceeds of which help to fund the church’s ministry to the community.
In a press release, the church announced its intention to fight the order.
“Missiongathering believes that the city of San Diego may be violating their religious liberty as a church and are committed to fighting these actions for the sake of the survival of the church and their right to be who God has called them to be. It is a fundamental call of Christ to reach out to those who are in need, to clothe the naked, and to be a good steward of our resources. The city is not only preventing Missiongathering from doing that, they are penalizing them for it,” read the release.
At a press conference held on Sept. 3, church leaders called on the city to work with the church in a more “reasonable manner” to continue its operations as a faith community. The church hopes Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city leaders will allow the religious organization to let them continue to express their faith through the weekly shelter and community concerts.
They say the outcome of the fight will determine whether the church can stay at its current location.