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Gateway Middle School set to host church services

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The first church service on Gateway School District property is scheduled for next month, despite some worries that it could set a precedent.

Monroeville Council last week approved a request from Harvest Bible Chapel to hold Sunday services in the Gateway Middle School auditorium on Old William Penn Highway.

The church has about 75 members, the Rev. Jeremiah Canfield said. Council approved a conditional-use permit based on what municipal officials deemed an appropriate amount of space in the parking lot to support church traffic.

The church will pay about $40,000 per year to the school district to rent the space, assuming the rental agreement with the church is extended from the current three-month trial period to a full year.

School directors will determine after three months the impact on district activities. School director Janice Rawson in June voted against church services on public property, which she said could set a precedent.

“I just didn't think you should mix any type of religion or politics with Gateway schools,” Rawson said last week.

The board voted 5-4 at the June 26 school board meeting. School directors Scott Williams, Dave Magill and Bill Bailey also voted against the measure.

Gateway Solicitor Bruce Dice said in June that if the board approved Harvest Bible, officials would be legally bound to allow other religious groups in, as well.

But if another religious group requested to rent a facility and the services would interfere with a school activity, the board could deny the group based on the district's rental policy, board President Steve O'Donnell said .

Harvest Bible services would have conflicted with Gateway Midget Football, so games will be relocated to another school facility, municipal officials said.

Harvest Bible is a nondenominational Christian church that has grown to 90 congregations nationwide, Canfield said. The church was founded by Ontario, Canada, native James MacDonald in 1988.

Canfield said that after he was trained as a Harvest Bible worship leader in Chicago last fall, he moved with his wife and five children from Michigan to cultivate a new congregation east of Pittsburgh.

“It's been a great journey,” Canfield said. “We're just excited about what God's doing.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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