Benevolent kitchens are trending.
On October 25, when the Brookings City Council voted to limit benevolent meal services to two days a week and three hours or fewer per day, it quickly became more than a small, rural town issue.
Media groups like Fox News, KFUG Community News, Channel 12 Newswatch, Relevant Magazine, Vice and the New York Times took notice.
Type the name Father Bernie Lindley on Twitter, and tweets of support for the charismatic pastor at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church pop up.
“Shout out to Rev. Bernie Lindley, we need more people like them in this world,” wrote one self-described Star Wars nerd and Libertarian Communist Twitter user.
Letters of support, some of them enclosed in envelopes containing donations, also started to pour in.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Lindley said, adding that he wants to respond to each of the letters but many of them still sit on his desk, unopened.
According to Lindley, it costs about $7,000 each year to run the community kitchen.
“My guess is that when I open all of those letters, they will include checks that will be enough to fund the entire kitchen for all of 2022,” Lindley said.
Shortly after the ordinance went into effect, Lindley also received an application from the city to apply for a conditional use permit to keep operating, albeit for two rather than the four days in effect now. (On one of those days at St. Tim’s, Smith River United Methodist runs the kitchen).
“It said to make sure that it’s turned in by November 4, so it can be heard at their next meeting,” Lindley said. But that application also sits on his desk. “The only thing we are turning in is a federal lawsuit,” Lindley said.
Lindley added, however, that he doesn’t expect either side to draw definitive lines in the sand until well after the holidays. In the meantime, legal arguments are being made.
On Nov. 2, Criminal Defense Attorney’s Andell Brown and Molly Parmer debated the legality of the ordinance for five minutes on Fox News.
“This is an expression of their 1st Amendment right to worship as they choose, according to their conscience,” said Brown, adding that the city of Brookings likely won’t be able to meet legal strict scrutiny challenges that require compelling government interests when it comes to limiting constitutional rights.
“The government can sometimes burden or limit our exercise of religion,” countered Parmer, citing the case of Employment Division vs. Smith - a case that stated general-applicability laws do not necessarily rise to the level of strict scrutiny.
And on Nov. 4, a reporter with the New York Times called.
“He was just fact gathering, but he may be making a trip out to Brookings,” Lindley said. If that happens, St. Timothy’s is prepared to put out a plate of food for him.