Gospel choir fined $500 a day — for singing in church

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(Google Street View)Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Oakland, Calif.

OAKLAND, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – The pastors and church members of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church recently were shocked to receive a cease-and-desist letter from their city for creating a "public nuisance" with their gospel singing.

"Kind of hard to believe because we've been here about 65 years in the community and all of a sudden we get some concerns about the noise," Thomas A. Harris III, the pastor at Pleasant Grove, told CBS.

The letter from the city threatened to lay a $3,500 fine on the church, with an additional $500 per day fee, if the choir did not worship more quietly. The letter said, "This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community's property."

A city spokesperson called the letter a courtesy notice, U.S. News reported. Harris said choir rehearsal usually ends by 9 p.m., although the complaint said the noise sometimes continued until 2 a.m.

PUBLIC NUISANCE

Harris and other West Oakland pastors, who met Wednesday about the issue, attribute the noise complaint to the gentrification of the neighborhood, which is drawing new money from the tech industry with its classic Victorian homes.

"We're being bought out. We're being moved out. We are being priced out of our own neighborhood," said Lawrence Van Hook, the senior pastor at Community Church, according to CBS.

The pastors think new members of the community were the source of the noise complaint. But they also point out Pleasant Grove has not changed its volume—rather, the accusation of being a "public nuisance" to surrounding property must have originated in the changing neighborhood atmosphere.

Not only local pastors are taking notice of this surprising cease-and-desist letter. George Holland, president of the Oakland branch of the NAACP, defends Pleasant Grove's music as part of the church's worship. "We cannot have people come attack churches about music."

"Those persons who are just new arrivals should not come and try to change the culture that existed before they arrived here," Holland said. Much of African American visual and musical art and culture originated in the church.

JOYFUL NOISE

Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition has also met about the noise complaint. According to CBS, the coalition is working with Oakland's city council president to protect other churches from similar public nuisance letters.

The arrival of the letter seemed to come with no warning. "There should have been discussions between the community and those people who are saying the church is making too much noise," Holland pointed out.

To ask the church essentially to curb its enthusiasm is, at the very least, un-neighborly.

"The music of the church reveals the life of the church, the enthusiasm of the church," said Michael Wright, pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church.

For now, Pleasant Grove is planning to hold choir practice and worship services exactly as before, despite the threat of fines the church cannot afford.