Church members say they’re forced to have service outside as they battle metro city over property

RIVERDALE, Ga. — Sable Barber and other congregation members at the Upper Room Church say they’ve been forced to have church service outside after the City of Riverdale told them the church building is unsafe to be in.

“We’ve been working outside in this tent for the last six months,” said Barber.

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Pastor Franklin Battle says two years ago when they first moved into the property located on Highway 138, they had no issues from the city.

The building previously housed a movie theatre. After the theater closed, Channel 2 Action News found several churches used the space to hold church services. It saw vacant for some months and the property was vandalized.

Battle says the previous church, who leased the property, renovated the front of the building converting it into a sanctuary space.

“Probably about five months after we had got here the city started complaining about graffiti on the building, cars on the parking lot which were here before we got here,” Franklin said.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Ashli Lincoln walked the property with an employee and several theaters had damage.

Battle told Lincoln he would like for the City of Riverdale to allow them to continue using the sanctuary while they work to renovate the theatres.

“It’s been very draining as well as when you’re dealing with a church it’s hard to get your congregation together when you’re meeting at different off-site locations,” he said.


The City Manager declined Lincoln’s request for an interview because the case is still being played out in court.

However, the city said in a statement for several months the church has failed to meet standard building codes. The city says to receive a permit to occupy the premises, the church must satisfy standard building and fire marshal codes.

The City went on to say:

As a result, the municipal court judge ordered the church to not freely access the building or use it for church functions until building and fire marshal code compliance has been achieved.

However, regrettably, church leadership apparently chose to purposefully violate the judge’s order.

Consequently the municipal court judge issued a decree holding them in contempt of court.

Again, and most emphatically, the Upper Room Church is not being treated any differently than any other building occupancy applicant. They simply must comply with the law.

Beyond that, because it is an ongoing legal matter, we will not have any further comments.

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