Village Church Preparing to Leave P.S. 3 Space Sunday Due to Citywide Ban
MANHATTAN — A local Presbyterian congregation will lose its home in the West Village's P.S. 3 after Sunday services because of a contentious citywide ban on the use of public schools for worship services.
The church's leader, however, is not trying to fight the policy that would displace his flock.
"The New Testament says that when we are inconvenienced for worshipping God, the appropriate response is to rejoice," Andreades said.
The Village Church — like dozens of churches citywide — will be prohibited from renting public school space after Sunday.
The ban is the culmination of a 16-year battle that began with a challenge by a single Bronx church to a Department of Education policy that prevented the use of school property for religious services or instruction.
After the DOE repeatedly denied the Bronx Household of Faith's request to use school space, the church sued the school district and the city, claiming that their First Amendment rights had been violated. The lawsuit ultimately failed.
A federal district court issued an injunction in 2002 that barred the DOE from refusing to review rental space applications by religious organizations.
After that injunction was thrown out last June, the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian religious liberties organization, filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined on Dec. 5 to review the case. That left the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches that met in schools with an eviction date of Feb. 12.
The state Senate passed a bill on Monday that would allow churches to remain in schools, and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is drafting a similar bill, but it will not be voted on before the ban goes into effect, a Silver spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon.
Andreades said that while he is at peace with losing weekly use of the 490 Hudson St. school's auditorium, he is saddened by the strain to the relationship between P.S. 3 and the Village Church, which counts about 50 attendees every week.
"We formed a good relationship with the school community," he said, noting that some families with children at the school attend Village Church services.
The rental fees paid to P.S. 3 — about $200 per week, according to Andreades — cover the cost of custodial services during use of the building but do not fund student services, school PTA co-president Susan Stover said.
In preparation for its eviction, the church is planning a Friday night event for children and its last Sunday morning service. It is also seeking a new part-time location in the neighborhood.
Parents looking for a night to themselves can leave their children in the care of the Village Church Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. for "Parents' Night Out." The monthly event that provides a free night of activities for children will include a class by professional dancer and dance instructor Karen Lacy, Andreades said.
"We wanted to serve the school once more," he said. "This is one way we've been able to serve."
Members of the church will inform families on Friday about their worship services, but the evenings are not for religious instruction, Andreades said.
In its 17-year history, the Village Church has held services in the Manhattan Church of Seventh-Day Adventist on West 11th Street, Our Lady of Pompeii on Carmine Street and other spaces.
Now, it's looking for an entirely new home.
The congregation would like to stay in the Village and is visiting a space that includes one room for about 50 people to hold a service, a separate room for a children's ministry and a third area in which to serve food after the service, Andreades said.
Religious groups that try to use public schools after Sunday will be denied acesss, a DOE spokesman confirmed Friday.