A church has been told it is not complying with zoning regulations, which do not allow ‘religious assemblies’ in industrial areas

A Richmond pastor said he was praying that Richmond City Council would grant his church a temporary use permit to operate in an industrial area.

But the irony is that it was prayer and Bible study that got his congregation in hot water with the City of Richmond’s bylaw department, and he wonders why a music or language school – or a tea party for that matter – can congregate in industrial areas as long as religion is not a topic of conversation.

Kevin Preston’s church has been told it is not following zoning regulations, which do not allow “religious gatherings” in industrial areas.

The pastor will be at the city council’s planning committee meeting on Tuesday to apply for a three-year temporary permit, but is frustrated that other organizations will be allowed to operate in the industrial park on No. 5 Road, south of Steveston Highway, but Bible study is banned.

“As soon as you bring the Bible into it, as soon as you bring religion into it…I’m not allowed to meet there,” Preston said.

Before COVID-19, Preston’s wife hosted a Christmas tea on Saturday mornings where the women made a craft in anticipation of the holidays. This, Preston said, is acceptable as long as no religion is discussed.

“If I were to bring in … a pastor’s wife to share her testimony of what God has done for her, then that would be illegal,” he said. “I could have ladies’ teas, I could have crafts, I could have sweets, but as soon as you bring in religion, it’s illegal religious assembly and I have no right to do that.”

And it is not only the Christian religion, he added, it affects any religion, for example a Muslim assembly.

Preston has been the Richmond Christian Fellowship pastor for five years and when he first took the job he went to City Hall to speak with the Bylaws Department, and he said he had assured that Bible study was permitted within the zoning.

Unfortunately, he said he did not receive it in writing.

However, going back even further in the church’s history, when the property was purchased in 2004, the church’s parent organization, Foursquare, sent an attorney’s letter to the city saying it intended to use it as a “place of worship”, asking for a tax exemption. (The church, however, currently pays about $7,000 in property taxes.)

Still, industrial zoning doesn’t allow “religious gathering,” so when the city found out in 2019 that the church met there on Fridays and Sundays, they told them they weren’t compliant.

Although a small congregation, Preston said it would be unfortunate if it had to close as some members have been attending the Richmond Christian Fellowship for 30 years.

Preston actively sought a new home for the church, but COVID-19 closed many sites.