BERLIN — Church services will be coming to Henry Park this summer.
Local Evangelist Leshell Fooks approached the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday night, requesting permission to conduct church services twice a week over the summer.
“The goal is to create a positive impact,” she told the council. “We want to change mindsets.”
Fooks explained that services would be held outdoors at Henry Park and requested that the council issue a special events permit for them. Additionally, she asked that the usual fee for hosting an event in the park be waived due to the civic nature of the project.
While the council was receptive to the idea of allowing religious services in the park, officials didn’t jump on the proposal immediately. Mayor Gee Williams asked Fooks to consider having services only one weekend a month, since Henry Park is a “high traffic” area and having sections of it reserved every Friday and Sunday would be unfair to other organizations and residents.
“There’s a lot going on,” said Williams.
Fooks was amicable to the change. However, when asked for timeframes on the beginning and end of services, Fooks admitted that she had no exact numbers.
“We need to make a commitment to time,” said Williams.
The mayor added that a concrete schedule had to be in place in case anyone else wished to hold a special event at the park.
Fooks agreed, but pointed out that inclement weather could affect services.
“Like everything else, it’s weather dependent,” agreed Williams.
However, he maintained that a schedule needed to be on the books. Eventually, Fooks and the council came out with a timetable: services will be held three weekends this summer, starting Friday, June 17 at 6 p.m. and running until 8:30 p.m. The next service will occur on Sunday June 19, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and lasting until 1 p.m. The next set of services will be held the third weekend in July, additional services planned for August.
Ironing out times was the easiest part of Fooks’ request and was backed by the entire council. It was only when the possibility of having the usual event fees waived was there a debate.
The main question brought up was whether it would be fair to waive fees for one religious event. Even if the fees were waived for all religious events, regardless of denomination, where exactly the line between who should pay and who shouldn’t could not be established.
“We basically try to serve everyone,” said Williams.
The fees are relatively low, $50 per event, half of which is refunded if the organizers clean up their area of the park after they’re done. The six services would then cost $300, $150 of which would be returned to Fooks assuming the park is kept clean. While it’s not a large number, Councilwoman Paula Lynch questioned the principle of making an exception.
“Everybody else follows the rules,” she pointed out.
“We also feel the fee is reasonable,” said Williams.
However, the council did agree to waive the fees for the services, on the condition that the same standards are maintained, and any refuse is collected after each event. Lynch still had reservations, but was outvoted 3-1, with Councilman Elroy Brittingham absent.