In praise of restraint

Street minister doesn’t need amplifiers to deliver message

No one is stopping street minister Art Pawlowski from preaching the Gospel in downtown Calgary. They just want him to do it without amplifiers.

The evangelical minister refuses to accept that message. He’s gone to court, alleging that a crackdown by the city on his amplified campaigns is an attack on his freedom of speech.

Pawlowski’s work with Street Church Ministries has a goal to "evangelize and raise up evangelists," according to the organization’s website.

But any goodwill he’s gained by feeding, clothing and preaching to the homeless is put at risk by his ongoing battle with neighbours who don’t like the noise.

His lawyer, Gerald Chipeur, argues the city is trying to shut down his client because a few people don’t like the message.

City spokesmen, on the other hand, maintain no one has complained about the content. All 77 e-mails and calls that have come in have been in opposition to the volume.

"This is absolutely not a reli-gious issue, which is seen by the fact we have renewed his 2007 permit," says city lawyer David Lewis.

Unlike in previous years, the permit no longer gives Pawlowski permission to use a microphone in the park Pawlowski contends he needs a sound system so the people who come by can hear him speak. It’s hard to buy his claim. Tri-angle Park, also known as Needle Park for the drug activity that goes on there at other times, is no bigger than a baseball diamond. The strip is so small anyone in it, short of the hearing impaired, should easily be able to hear Pawlowski’s sermon.

But neighbours as far away as Bridgeland, on the other side of the river, shouldn’t have to put up with the noise. Nor should those homeless people living across the street at the drop-in centre be kept awake by the sermons, because they work nights and sleep during the day, or are recovering from surgery.

"When you’re on your deck on a Sunday afternoon, having a couple of beers, the last thing you want to hear is the . . . Gospel," says Jason McKee, who lives in Bridgeland.

The drop-in centre filed a five page affidavit against the Street Church, but Chipeur maintains there are "no legitimate complaints by anyone."

The affidavit, written by exec¬utive director Dermot Baldwin, states: "On the occasions that I have seen the Street Church in the park, the speakers were turned towards the downtown centre. . . . I found the sound level to be excessive, to the point that it disturbed and interfered with normal business practices and conversations."

There’s no doubt Pawlowski’s work is worthwhile – feeding the homeless three times a week, handing out clothes, and offering spiritual inspiration. And while he occupies a known drug haven, such criminal activity comes to a temporary halt.

We wish him well, if only he would turn down the volume.

 

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