The Father’s House of Prayer, a non-denominational church currently based in Whittier, is eyeing an empty building on Main Street as its new spiritual headquarters. The church wants to hold Sunday service, Christian rock concerts and other community activities in the former Lyric Theater building.
The location has also housed several restaurants, including Meriwether’s, but has stood vacant for some time. Church pastor Doug Rowe believes the site would be perfect for the alternative-style church, attracting passersby and tapping into the town’s downtown scene.
“I think we would lend ourselves very well to the character of downtown Sylva,” Rowe said. “We’re not your typical church with a steeple on top.”
For the church to move into downtown, it first needs to overcome a local zoning law that prohibits ground-level churches in the downtown business district. The Father’s House of Prayer — and its 30 or so members — has solicited local officials to change the law. The issue has yet to come before the local planning board or town board members, but it has already met with some pushback. Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody has even voiced his concerns with the plan.
“My personal opinion is that your downtown business area should be commercial,” Moody said. “And I think that having a church in that particular district would not be a good fit.”
Others have cited limited Main Street parking and maintaining a consistent downtown-like atmosphere as reasons that churches should not be allowed on the ground floor. Some downtown business owners have even created a petition asking town board members not to change the law.
John Bubacz, owner of Signature Brew Coffee Company, has not signed onto the petition but has his own personal concerns as a business owner. He recently remodeled his establishment and expanded his kitchen to cater to a wine and dine crowd. Bubacz said the church’s presence could stifle his investment.
Bubacz said his business lies within 50 feet of the where the church wants to relocate, meaning if the church moves in before he receives his alcohol license he would be prohibited by law from serving patrons alcohol with meals.
He said the site would be better served by another restaurant or retail-type business, and by his count, there are already an adequate number of churches downtown.
“I’m happy that people want a place to worship, but I don’t see a need for it downtown,” Bubacz said. “We have five churches downtown.”
Nevertheless, Rowe believes many of the naysayer’s concerns are overblown. And as much as people are worried about a church moving into the building, he believes the presence of a vacant building on Main Street is by far the worse alternative. Furthermore, he said having a church nearby the chain of restaurants downtown — including Lulu’s on Main, Guadalupe Café and Signature Brew Coffee Company — can only help business.
“We’re not going to hurt anybody,” Rowe said. “When people come out of church, they’re ready to go eat.”