February 16th, 2011
05:06 PM ET
By John Murgatroyd, CNN
Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) - Mark Anthony Mitchell is praying for a miracle.
Mitchell, pastor and founder of Atlanta’s Urban Foursquare Church, knows the day is coming soon when his congregation most likely will have to abandon its home in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Last week, officers from the county marshal’s department arrived at the church bearing an eviction notice. But because dozens of children were in the building as part of a preschool program, the church was spared being evicted on the spot.
“They wouldn’t evict us because of the children we have there,” Mitchell said. Instead, the church was told it needs to leave.
Mitchell’s congregation has been renting an abandoned church that has been for sale by the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference.
The conference said Mitchell has not been able to pay rent for the last eight months.
The building houses a free, four-day-a-week preschool for about 55 3- to 5-year-old children from the Lakewood neighborhood, in addition to an after-school program.
“The day care and after-school programs that have operated from the Lakewood church facility are independent organizations that provide much needed services to the children and families of the community,” said Jamie Jenkins of the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference. “Therefore we are working with them to find a way for them to continue their operation in this location.”
The programs have been a point of contention between the conference and Mitchell’s church. The conference says they are tenants brought in by Mitchell and therefore violate the terms of his lease.
Mitchell says he considers the day care to be part of his ministry. According to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitition, Mitchell said the day care program has never paid rent and the after-school program’s last rent payment was in August.
Mitchell has been advised that he and his church need to gather their belongings and vacate the premises. In addition to services, Bible studies and mentoring programs, Mitchell’s ministry feeds the neighborhood hungry twice a week.
“We have worked diligently for a mutually beneficial solution to this situation,” Jenkins said. “We regret that our relationship as landlord-tenant has ended in this manner.”
Mitchell said he hopes to find another location in Lakewood to continue to minister to the poor and plans to hold a fund-raiser in hopes of raising enough cash to relocate. Mitchell said the church was able to raise about $6,000 after CNN interviewed him in November, which helped him keep the lights and heat on through the winter.
“We’re still praying for a miracle,” he said. “This dramatizes the plight of the poor.”
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