Church and community reconcile
After controversial cellphone tower is blocked, congregation breaks bread with its neighbors.
Sophie Wiegand, 13, center, and other church members and residents grab some food during a potluck dinner, which took place at Little White Chapel Christian Church in Burbank. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff Photographer / June 20, 2012)
Over a potluck that included lasagna and fried chicken, the two sides mingled in a garden at the church, where Pastor Bill Thomas Jr. welcomed the group as they applauded his entrance.
“That is the most glorious sound that God has heard in the last few minutes is all of us clapping together,” he told the gathering.
Mike Moynahan, who lives near the church and reached out to Thomas the day after the City Council unanimously blocked the T-Mobile facility, said the neighbors and the Little White Chapel congregation are going to move forward together.
“There’s just one direction now that we’re getting together and talking about things,” he said. “The church is right here, part of our community, and it didn’t make sense not to be together as a strong community.”
The relationship between church and neighborhood frayed in recent months as residents launched a well-organized fight against the installation of the T-Mobile facility, one that included a rally and claims that the health impacts of the radiowave transmissions could be harmful to nearby households.
The City Council eventually sided with the residents, turning down the project application based mostly on aesthetic grounds.
The church is now missing out on lease payments it would have received from T-Mobile.
But Moynahan said any bitter sentiment has passed.
“It’s such a positive energy now in our neighborhood,” he said, adding that it’s been discussed that the church could become a center of activity in the neighborhood with dances and movie nights.
“Right now is the beginning of that,” he said.
For the Little White Chapel, bygones will become bygones, Thomas said.
“I don’t think anybody here — either at the church or in the neighborhood — is interested in throwing stones or licking wounds,” he said. “I think everybody here is really about the business of figuring out how we can all be better neighbors to each other.”
Mike and Cathy Bruse have lived next to the Little White Chapel for 43 years and said that sentiment is key.
“They’re not moving and I’m not moving. We’re still neighbors,” Mike Bruse said. “If there had to be a church to live next door to, I’d want this one.”
Kathryn Merlo was one of the residents who filed an appeal of an earlier Planning Board decision approving the wireless equipment, which led to the matter going before City Council.
“Although it was very trying for so many of us, we got to meet so many of our neighbors,” she said. “There are some really good people in this community. It’s nice to extend the community to include the church. God works in mysterious ways.”