Thursday, April 11, 2024

Awaken Church Rents Community Center, Prompting Scrutiny of City Facilities Use Policy

Coronado cannot base facilities rental decisions on programming content, City Manager Tina Friend says

Awaken Church’s El Cajon Campus is one of six San-Diego area locations. The church also has campuses in Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

The controversial Awaken Church has rented the Coronado Community Center for its Easter service, which has prompted concern from some residents.

“Awaken is our local metastasis of a larger cancer that is slowly taking over our democratic institutions and unalterably changing our religions, society, and culture,” said Coronado resident John Pottridge during public comment at the March 19 City Council meeting.

“It has a warlike mentality, calling those who oppose it ‘satanic’ and ‘demonic’ and threatening to drive us out of Coronado with our hands up,” Pottridge continued. “This is hate speech. But more importantly, it is threatening speech.”

A handful of others spoke against the fast-growing Awaken, which has been criticized for its political activism, its stance on the LGBTQ+ community, its financial conduct, and its prosperity gospel theology.

But members of Awaken say the church is a place of love and support. The church has six campuses in San Diego, plus one campus each in Idaho and Utah, and it has been planning to expand into Coronado for at least a year.

City Manager Tina Friend said that the community center is a public space and the city cannot use content as a basis for denying a rental reservation.

“It’s a limited public forum, and we don’t look at content at all when we do our reservations,” Friend said. “You apply online, and if the space is available, you pay the fee, and you’re entitled to use the public space.”

However, Friend said the city is aware of the concerns about Awaken.

“We’re aware that when there’s other rentals by this organization in town, it draws a lot of attention,” Friend said. More than 100 protesters chanted “No place for hate!” outside Awaken’s first Coronado service.

“We will have powerful and joyful worship, a life-giving message around the Easter story, and fun activities for the kids.” ~ Mike Yeager, Awaken Church

“So please know that we’re watching this,” Friend continued. “Our police department are in touch, and we’re going to very closely look (to see if there are any impacts) in terms of safety, or just general impacts to the space at all.”

Mike Yeager, the pastor of the church’s forthcoming Coronado location, said Awaken is a loving place for people to worship and grow in their faith.

“There is no day more sacred to the Christian faith than Easter Sunday,” Yeager said in emailed comments. “It is the day where all over the world, believers of all nationalities and backgrounds come together to worship our core belief: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and conquered the power of sin and death over humankind.

“We are so excited to offer an Easter worship-service at the Coronado Community Center this Easter Sunday at 8 a.m.,” Yeager continued. “We will have powerful and joyful worship, a life-giving message around the Easter story, and fun activities for the kids. Any notion that the service will contain anything other than orthodox Christian worship, celebration, and teaching is unfounded and harmful to a Christian church committed to worshiping a risen Jesus on Easter Sunday. We welcome anyone from the community to join us this Easter to celebrate alongside us!”

Some said it is inappropriate for city-funded facilities to host Awaken due to its political motivations.

“By allowing a Christian nationalist group to rent space in a public, taxpayer-funded building over the legitimate concerns of a great many residents violates, it seems to me that you have violated your duty,” said Brian Trotier at the city council meeting.

Additionally, some residents questioned if the city is following its policies consistently, citing an incident in 2022, when the nonprofit Rainbow Spaces applied to use the community center’s Nautilus Room for its Rainbow Soirée, an alternative prom for LGBTQ+ youth.

The city approved the event and then rescinded approval, saying not enough attendees were Coronado residents. After public backlash, City Council later voted to reverse the denial, and the reservation was granted.

Coronado’s facility rental fees are tiered based on the group reserving it. Awaken placed its reservation under Classification E of the city’s facilities use policy, which allows Coronado special interest groups to rent city facilities. To qualify for this tier, Coronadans must comprise 75% of membership, and documentation is required.

During public comment, speakers questioned how Awaken was approved for this classification and what documentation the city would use to substantiate it. Although more than 1,000 people attended Awaken’s first service in Coronado, some in attendance at that service said they came from the church’s other campuses to show support.

Friend said that there’s a “strong argument” that Awaken should have been granted its rental under Classification F, which is for non-resident organizations and individuals. If so, Awaken would still be able to rent the space, but at a higher price.

Friend said the city plans to revisit its facilities use policy because it can be “murky” deciding which classification rentals fall into. After the Rainbow Soirée incident, the city also decided to revisit and clarify its policies.

“Maybe we didn’t get it right,” Friend said, referencing the rate at which Awaken rented its space, not its ability to do so. “And we absolutely want to correct where we can. But I want to say that, as a public entity, the public has a right to use the space.”

“And not everyone agrees,” she added. “We also have people who are very happy that this rental use is happening for the Easter service. But I want to say that we’re here for you, and we’re going to watch it.”

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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