After months-long fight, services to be held in Johnston church

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The town of Johnston and the leaders of a local church have reached an agreement, after a year-long dispute took them to federal court.

On Sunday, services will be held at the King’s Tabernacle Church – now that a months-long saga with race at its center is settled.

The dispute began when the predominantly black church was denied a special use permit for the vacant house of worship on Greenville Avenue last summer.

After a recorded phone call revealed a town building official using racially-charged language to describe the church owner, religious leaders believed they were being denied the permit because of their race.

At a news conference Friday, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said that was never the case.

“I want to be clear, that the town of Johnston is a place where all people are welcome and respected, regardless of their race, color, creed or religious beliefs,” he said.

Still, the saga ended up in federal court when the lawyers for the church filed a suit in January, alleging they were unfairly denied the permit they desired.

After a day-long negotiating session with a federal judge, both sides have come to an agreement and the members of the church can begin what they hoped to start nearly a year ago.

“We’re happy that we are able to resolve this matter, and, with open arms, the mayor has said to me that we are welcome to Johnston,” said Pastor Chris Abhulime. “Thank you once again.”

The church’s leadership will now have to address some fire and building code issues. Polisena said they will have until this summer to rectify the problems, but can ask for an extension if necessary.

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