Pastor Chris Avell is facing criminal charges because his church, Dad’s Place, allows homeless people to come in and find shelter during the cold winter months. Pastor Avell says the church is seeking to demonstrate Christ’s love “to even those the world rejects.”

According to an email from First Liberty, which is representing Pastor Avell, the city of Bryan, Ohio, sent a letter “ordering the church to stop allowing overnight guests or face criminal prosecution.”

Dad’s Place was told it “could no longer house the homeless because there’s no bedrooms, and people are not allowed to eat or sleep on the property,” Fox News reported.

Things escalated on New Year’s Eve when “police showed up at the church” and “handed the pastor a packet of multiple charges and violations.”

Ryan Gardner serves as counsel at First Liberty, a legal aid nonprofit exclusively dedicated to defending religious freedom. He told the Daily Citizen:

To file criminal charges against a pastor for daring to care for the homeless in the frigid winter is unconscionable. The city has decided that it’s better for the homeless to freeze on the cold sidewalks than to allow a church to be a church and remain open 24 hours a day to those who need it the most.

Pastor Avell keeps his church open “24 hours a day, 7 days a week to serve his community, especially the homeless.” First Liberty said he faces “18 criminal charges for violating the city’s zoning laws. And that list of criminal violations grows every day [emphasis in originial]” that Avell does not comply with the city’s mandate.

Pastor Christopher and Lisa Avell

Pastor Avell told Fox News:

I was spiritually homeless, and God provided a home for me. He’s put a burden on my heart for the homeless. Many of these people have been rejected by their families and cast aside by their communities. So, if the church isn’t willing to lay down its life for them, then who will? This is what we’re called to do.

Avell said the church believes “anyone who’s weary and burdened can come in and find rest … true rest, rest for their souls,” adding:

We believe we’re commanded to take care of those in need – it’s not optional. And it’s our mission to show Christ’s love to even those the world rejects, people who God loves. … He loves them so much He sent His son Jesus to rescue anyone who turns to Him in faith.

First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys also weighed in on Fox:

The city would rather kick these folks to the curb in the cold outdoor months of December and early January than allow the church to remain open 24/7 to those who need it the most. It’s unconscionable.

In an emotional, heartfelt response, Avell said he will keep serving “the poor, the marginalized,” explaining his motivation:

I believe this is the mission of the church, to make disciples. And this is how we do it, by showing the love of Christ, preaching the truth, and laying down our lives in service and humility – as Christ laid down His life for us.

First Liberty said it will hold the city accountable for its “illegal and unconstitutional” actions.


Related articles and resources:

First Liberty Institute 

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Image credit: First Liberty Institute.