PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WKBN) – A local church and one of its neighbors have been looking for a compromise ever since the pandemic started.
Once restrictions were placed on gatherings, Church at the Center on S. Lincoln Avenue in Salem moved their services outside. Churchgoers drive up and listen to the mass through FM radio or over the loudspeakers.
Brian Bell lives nearby. He said the noise is disrespectful and protested by making noise of his own. Three weeks ago, he put up signs.
“State does not interfere with church so there’s nothing I can do unless I take legal action on my own, and that’s not really what I want to do,” Bell said. “I just want to draw attention and let these people know that most churches follow The Golden Rule, and I don’t believe that’s what they’re doing.”
Bell was cited with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct Monday. He paid a $245 fine in court Tuesday.
According to a Perry Township Police report, the complainant told police Bell was “insulting, taunting or challenging another under circumstances in which that conduct is likely to provoke a violent response.”
Pam Ginter, the wife of the church’s pastor Tim Ginter, said they do use the radio, but the loudspeakers help the ushers hear, too, while they are taking of people in their cars.
“Every Sunday, we have somebody that goes out into the back of the parking lot and checks the decibel levels, and we’re allowed up to a 90 dB, and we never, ever go over that,” Ginter said. “Even though a church is exempt and we wouldn’t have to do that, but we want to do that for our neighbors.”
The area has a noise ordinance so that is why the decibels were a concern.
Bell and Ginter also brought up that attendees use their horns during service. Ginter said she isn’t sure how it started, but those at the service use it as a comparable way for them to say “Amen” as they would during an indoor service or to express an opinion.
“They could be way more reasonable than this,” Bell said. “Nobody wants to live across something that’s been going on every Sunday for two-and-a-half to three hours every Sunday, plus some Saturdays.”
The church is looking to expand to the back of its 3-acre plot. Ginter said the goal is to put up a covered building without sides so people can pull their cars underneath. The parking lot they’re using now will be used as overflow. Those in the back can use the large screen to watch the service.
“As soon as we get dirt from the back, we’re going to build a mound out front and then put some arborvitae trees on top of it to at least block a little bit and do as much as we can,” Ginter said.
They checked into building a large wall as a sound barrier, but they can’t have a fence above four feet tall so it wouldn’t have helped much with the sound.
Ginter said they hope moving the service further from the road and the addition of the mound will help reduce the sound. She also said they’ve been asked about holding service inside, but they don’t have the room. Inside, they can host 100 people standing close together. Each drive-up service averages 300 people.
“They’re entitled to their belief, but they need to do it respectfully,” Bell said.