CARLINVILLE, Ill. — Carlinville Southern Baptist Church and the city of Carlinville, Ill., have reached a settlement in the church's nearly year-long fight to use a former Wal-Mart building for worship services.
Under the Dec. 16 agreement, the church receives permission to use the commercially zoned building for worship services, reversing the city's previous denial because it wanted to attract a taxable business to the property. The church also will receive $125,000 for legal and other fees from the city's insurance company.
The controversy began when the church purchased the 60,000-square-foot building in January, but the city refused to re-zone it for church use. Wal-Mart, as it has done in many communities, built a new super store in Carlinville, a community of 6,000 residents located between Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis. Wal-Mart sold their former building to the church after six months of seeking a buyer.
The city filed a suit in state court seeking an injunction to prevent the church from renovating the facility or moving any of its offices to the site. The church then filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Springfield alleging violation of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal statute to protect religious institutions from discrimination and unreasonable burdens imposed by land use regulations.
Tim Rhodus, pastor of Carlinville Southern Baptist Church, told The Illinois Baptist newsjournal, "I am so proud of our church family. It is hard to choose humility in the midst of overwhelming injustice. They have endured so much and for the most part maintained amazing attitudes.
"It has never been about the building," Rhodus continued. "The building is merely a tool to enable us to reach more and more people for Christ. We have been on autopilot for over a year basically. 2009 is going to be a fun year … if for no other reason because the pressure and wear and tear of litigation is gone."
The church plans to hold its first worship service in the unfinished auditorium facility on Jan. 4.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sergent is associate editor of The Illinois Baptist.)