By Paul Lomax
Special to DNAinfo
MANHATTAN — A week ago, The Village Church lost its home at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village — much like a number of small houses of worship that made their homes in public schools across the city.
Now, as it has been throughout its 17-year existence, the Presbyterian church is on the move again, bringing its 50 parishioners to the community center Greenwich House on Barrow Street in the wake of a citywide ban that forced them out on Feb. 12.
The church was paying $260 per week for its approximately 50 worshipers to use P.S. 3, but the rate has increased to $390 per week at the new venue, which many advocates of allowing churches to stay inside public schools warn will drive some less affluent churches out of existence.
"The extra $130-a-week is not going to break us. Jesus is worth it," Village Church leader Rev. Sam Andreades said before his first service at his new venue Sunday morning. The Greenwich House is a nonprofit center that offers services ranging from childhood education to substance abuse treatment.
"I believe it was God's providence that brought us here. Right now we're just thinking week-by-week, so we'll see how it goes," Andreades said. "We found this space earlier this week. It was like the eleventh hour."
The ban on churches renting space inside public schools came after a 16-year court battle waged by the Bronx Household of Faith, which challenged a DOE policy that prevented using school property for religious services.
However, last Thursday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the city, allowing the Bronx Household of Faith to continue worshiping in their building for 10 days while the constitutionality of the ban was reviewed by a state court. The ban on churches in city school buildings remains intact for all other public-owned locations, the city law department said.
"I think the DOE's action against us and all the small churches is nothing short of discrimination," said Andreades. "I agree with those who say it's against the free exercise of religion."
Steve Wilson, 54, a local entrepreneur and Village Church member was with Andreades last Tuesday, when they knocked on the door of Greenwich House looking for a space to hold services.
"We found this place on Tuesday and look it's Sunday and we're here," he said. "I still can't believe the DOE kicked us out. Where are all the small and poor churches supposed to worship?"
Another worshiper, Carol, who did not want her last name used, said that she missed worshiping in the elementary school and hopes that the congregation will be allowed to return at some point.
"I loved going to P.S. 3," she said. "It was a really nice and bright place with plenty of room for us to worship. All the people there we're really friendly so I hope we can go back there one day."