Pastor responds to concerns about tent church

2013-09-02 00:00

THIS week Witness Warriors follows a different path after a concerned resident raised questions about a tent church in the grounds of Longmarket Primary School.

The resident — who did not want to be named as he said it was not a personal issue, but one he shared with many — was concerned about the legality of the large tent structure clearly visible from the Boshoff Street side of the school. He wanted to know whether the church had town planning permission from the Msunduzi Municipality and whether it was okay for an educational institution to lease land in this way.

“Is there a precedent being set for government schools to lease land to churches to put up tents?” The resident wondered how this arrangement impacted on school sport as vehicles were allowed to park on the sportsfields and the structure also limited the availability of playing fields. He raised the issue of this piece of land being on a flood zone, where people’s safety should be a matter of consideration.

The reader also asked about health and safety regulations and about traffic violations, as vehicles turn into the church from a busy Boshoff Street that has a painted island in the middle, which means that vehicles should not be crossing over to enter the grounds. His other concerns were over portable toilets, which he says are an eyesore. He wanted to know where the congregants came from and why they could not use existing buildings, like other churches.

“I write to you, after having tried to find answers without success,” the resident concluded.

Pastor Greg Smerdon of the God’s Family Life Centre Community Church responded by saying they had applied to the municipality for the necessary permission and received it after more than a year. They had to make several changes to their plans, before it was finally accepted. He apologised to people who were concerned. Smerdon said they focused on ministering to residents of the inner city, that was why they needed to be in or near the city centre. He said the church started off with eight people in 2004 and grew to a congregation of over 500 from all over Pietermaritzburg. Initially they operated from a building in Boshoff Street, which was previously a brothel. They renovated the building and landscaped the gardens and this building is now used as their youth centre.

Smerdon said the church had a long history with Longmarket Primary School. For years they had cleaned the school grounds voluntarily, as an youth job creation project They knew that the lower field was largely disused because it was unsafe for children, given the fact that behind the school were the overgrown banks of the Duzi River. They acquired permission from the school and the municipality. This is not a permanent arrangement and they have to apply every­ year for permission. He said the church pays rent to the school and provides security. The school also uses the structure for its own activities and discussions are underway for the school to use the tent as an aftercare facility.

The church has also cleaned up the banks of the Duzi river, making the grounds much safer for children and they are currently raising funds to install new fencing at the back of the school.

Their clean-up of the Duzi banks has been welcomed by the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct).

Smerdon said the tent was constructed in such a way as to have a minimum impact on the environment. They had engaged the services of a structural engineer and it took them over a year before all the requirements of the municipality were adequately met, including that the toilets were not an eyesore. The church is used on the weekends and in the evenings when Boshoff Street is not busy, however, they have told members of the congregation not to cross the barrier line, when entering and leaving the church.

“We acknowledge that we can improve on this and we are looking at other ways of ensuring proper traffic control,” said Smerdon.

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