Thinking Out Loud

March 3, 2012

‘If You Give a Cup of Water in My Name, Make Sure You Have a Permit’

All the people at Hope Church on the northwest edge of downtown New Orleans wanted to do was fulfill God’s direction to “give a cup of cold water” to partyers at the annual Mardi Gras (a French term meaning “Marty is gross”) street festival.

“We were given a cease and desist order,” said [Pastor] Matt Tipton… “We had no idea we were breaking the law.”

Tipton said volunteers from his church were handing out free coffee and free bottles of water at two locations along a Mardi Gras parade route when they were stopped by Jefferson Parish officials. The church volunteers were cited for failing to secure an occupational license and for failure to register for a sales tax.

“It kind of threw me for a loop because they weren’t in uniform,” he said. “But once they pulled the ticket out, I was conviniced.”

“We apologized,” Tipton said. “We didn’t know the rules.”

The church had purchased about five thousand bottles of water labeled with the church’s name and website address. They gave the remaining bottles to a local drug rehab center…

The story came to the attention of the Family Research Council:

Ken Klukowski, a senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council, said the citation was absurd.

“This is a perfect example of why so many people have a problem with big government,” Klukowski said. “The idea that a church needs a permit to hand out water to thirsty people is unfortunate.”

He said it’s hard to believe that the government would get in the way of citizens helping each other out – “especially a church which was just doing its duty to be good Samaritans and help those in need.”

Pastor Tipton said he sent an email to city leaders explaining that they were just trying to show their love to the city “and to serve the city.”

He offered to provide volunteers to clean up trash or even clean portable toilets. However, city leaders did not initially respond and Tipton said he was given the runaround – told to go through three different department heads.

Klukowski said the incident is outrageous.

“The idea that you need an additional level of bureaucracy stopping a church from showing kindness to members of the community is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer money and resources,” he said.

Full story at Fox Radio News

This is just one of many recent stories of churches wanting to do what churches have done for years — such as giving out a free lunch — and discovering they’re running afoul of the law. What can churches do to meet needs and be involved in the community when government rules, regulation and red tape seem to shut them down at every turn?


  1. churches, acting as a group of people–not an institution, can always reach out to individuals and families. i happen to believe that type of outreach is more effective anyway.

    Comment by randy morgan — March 3, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

    • without actually researching this out… it does seem like it would be most biblical to minister one on one to the unbeliever … your faith and practice as a Christian … that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven… the example of the Good Samaritan. we are to be always ready to answer the hope that is within us (individually)…

      Comment by Jennie wigton — May 1, 2012 @ 2:58 am

      • This is a tough one. My wife co-founded an organization six years ago which provides a weekly meal for those trapped in the poverty cycle where we live. While we know that “the church” = “people” not the institution, I think it’s valuable sometimes to show that as an organism we do care and we’re willing — collectively — to put feet to our faith.

        But I agree with you Jennie and Randy, some of the most effective ministry that takes place is one-to-one, and never seen by anyone except the recipient.

        The problem is that if we make social justice ministry an individual thing, we might move from that to making worship an individual thing, and few of us would want to give up corporate worship. So I think we also need to sometimes do things in the community as a group, despite the vulnerabilities and liabilities.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 1, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  2. oooh, good point, paul…”we might move to making worship an individual thing.” obviously, that would be devastating. we need to strive toward “together” and eschew “apart” wherever possible.

    to clarify my earlier point, though…

    the church can still function collectively as an organization (like your family did) and still not suffer the difficulties of being an institution (as in your example where “hope church” became the target, and not individual believers). sometime back i posed the question, “why do churches have names?” (and no one responded)

    i think that’s a worthy conversation to have.

    Comment by randy morgan — May 1, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    • If a church didn’t have a name, how would they be listed in the phone book? (Sorry, it’s been a long day…)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 1, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

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