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Vineyard movement seeks to establish downtown church

If the Planning Commission approves the request, a Park Rapids branch of the Lakes Area Vineyard Church would lease these empty storefronts on Main Avenue. Monday's meeting was postponed. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Park Rapids Planning Commission is being asked to decide if a church on Main Avenue would be preferable to empty storefronts.

Or, that board would have been asked Monday night. Two members of the commission, Jeff May and Janice Tidrick, didn't show up at the meeting, leaving the commission without a quorum or the ability to discuss its agenda publicly.

No subsequent meeting had been scheduled by press time Tuesday morning, By law the board must give 10 days notice to the public of a meeting.

Chair Richard Bradow apologized profusely to the audience gathered Monday night,

"It's kind of embarrassing," he acknowledged. "We really can't transact any business without a quorum."

Planning secretary Carmen Lockhart said she'd been phoning the pair for days with no response.

But the issue of a downtown worship center is stirring debate among merchants. Brett and Heidi Behnken, owners of The Lazy One, gave voice to what many merchants are privately murmuring.

Main Avenue "should be for retail stores and the like only," the Behnkens wrote to the Planning Commission. "Tourists come solely for the shopping and eating experiences on Main Street."

The proposed location of Lakes Area Vineyard Church is at 119 Main Avenue, which was the site of My Happy Place, and an adjacent building to the south that housed a Hallmark store that has since closed.

Brett Behnken said he took a "non-scientific study" of the makeup of Main Avenue.

"We have roughly 30 retail store fronts, 9 restaurants, 7 salons, 5 vacant buildings, 7 non-retail and 3 houses," his letter to the Planning Commission indicated.

"That is roughly 60 doors and 50 percent of those are retail stores," Behnken's letter states. "In my opinion, this number needs to go higher if we want to maintain our uniqueness and still maintain a healthy downtown."

Behnken suggested there were other locations in the downtown vicinity that might be more suitable for a church.

Church officials think downtown could be a "perfect fit" for the Vineyard campus because Sunday mornings few merchants would be open.

"Basically it's going to be a campus of Lakes Area Vineyard Church in Detroit Lakes," said church consultant Mike Meagher. "It will be our first campus. We're looking for a new location. We don't know if it's going to be a storefront. We're exploring that option."

Meagher said Robb and Sara Swanson "will be our campus pastors."

Robb ­­Swanson owns Zhateau Zorbaz; his wife is a Park Rapids attorney.

Vineyard "is a church that was planted out of California in the 1970s," Meagher explained.

The founder was perplexed that Biblical teachings weren't put into practice in everyday life, so he started small groups out of his home that eventually grew into a movement.

The church that evolved planted other churches. The Vineyard is a "church planting movement."

It's evangelical, but in its own way, Meagher said. It would be a hybrid of evangelical and Pentecostal movements, but without the labels.

"It's a Biblical church and seeks to live out the Bible in a practical way," Meagher said.

Vineyard churches are known for their hospitality, relevant preaching and good music, Meagher explained. The movement or association of Vineyard churches, has spread internationally.

"Preaching that can be applied to our daily lives," Meagher added.

"We just want to bless the community," Meagher said. "That's what we've done here in Detroit Lakes and the city seems to love us here. We don't want to be a hindrance. We don't know if we will end up downtown."

Sara Swanson said she and her husband have had a Bible study group of around 20 people for the past three years that could serve as core membership for a new campus.

Swanson said she had heard rumors of misgivings from downtown merchants, but "no concerns have been brought to us."

Swanson, too, thinks a downtown church make perfect sense.

"Had we had the opportunity to say anything last night, we would have mentioned that," she said Tuesday morning.

"Our hope is if we do end up being located (downtown) that we would bring people to Main street at a time when it's not yet heavily trafficked and perhaps some people would stay and have breakfast or coffee" downtown. Other church activities would take place at night when retail establishments have closed, she said.

The Detroit Lakes Church has been there for more than a decade.

"The vision for our church is to experience God, grow in love and give it away," Swanson said.

As the Vineyard seeks to embrace the Park Rapids community, members hope the downtown will reciprocate.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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