Officials say Decatur church was wrongfully used as a shelter

WAAY 31 took a tour of that church and learned why officials say folks can’t stay inside the building.

Posted: Aug 6, 2019 6:51 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2019 6:54 PM

A local church is being forced to shut their doors until they make some changes.

The church is Saint Andrews Church of Grace on Memorial Drive in Decatur. Officials say the church was wrongfully being used as a shelter.

WAAY 31 took a tour of that church and learned why officials say folks can’t stay inside the building. The pastor says if the building is condemned, it will impact more than just the church members.

"In 17 years of ministry, no one has ever been hurt at Saint Andrews Church," the pastor, Barry Strong, said. "Everyone has always felt safe at Saint Andrews Church.”

Barry Strong has been the pastor at the church in Decatur for 17 years. He says he’s fallen in love with the century-old building, but more than that, he loves the people it holds.

That’s why he was upset when he learned he could no longer invite those folks in on Sundays, saying many of them depend on the church for food and support.

“They come here and they feel like they fit in. They have a chance. For this to be taken away from them, I’m not fighting this for me. It’s the people who are here that we’ve been a leaning post for. Those are the people I’m very concerned about,” he said.

According to Decatur Fire officials, DHR got a complaint about the church acting as a shelter. Officials went to inspect and found bedrooms and bunks inside, not far from the church’s daycare, “Tippy-Toes.” They said this was a safety concern for the children, and the building is not approved for overnight stay or residential occupancy.

"There was a pregnant woman upstairs, nine months pregnant, had nowhere to go. The love that God asked us to have, I could not turn that woman away,” Strong said.

Officials with Decatur’s Community Development Department said the church has not been condemned but is being processed because of several violations, including mechanical and maintenance issues, as well as problems with electrical wiring and plumbing.

“I’ve got about 15 toilets and all of them flush properly. All of my water works, it comes on and goes off. What is it that plumbing is supposed to do? The plugs work. What is it that electricity is supposed to do?” Strong said.

The city says the church can’t be used until certain repairs are made, but Strong says it would cost about $80,000 to make the repairs the city has requested.

Strong believes the city is after the plot the church sits on because of its prime location.

“They could put a Burger King here. Burger King would owe the city taxes. McDonald’s would owe city taxes,“ he said.

Strong is now praying the city will let him keep the church’s doors open and the lights on.

“I wish they would look to the better angels of their nature and understand that this is a church that’s helping people,” he said.

Pastor Strong says he will be working on the repairs, and in the meantime, his church members will have to meet at another location for their services. That location has not yet been decided.

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