Council: No outdoor worship for Eddie Dowling Highway church

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – A small church on Eddie Dowling Highway will not be allowed to hold outdoor services following a decision last week by the North Smithfield Town Council.

Pastor Martin Capeles of Igniting Life Praise and Worship Center appeared before the board last week requesting a permit to move services to the parking lot of the church from 3 to 6 p.m., two Saturdays a month from May through August.

“Because of this harder time that we’re living in right now, we want to bring another option to the community,” Capeles told councilors. “That way they feel safe in their vehicles and don’t have to be afraid of going into the church.”

According to a document submitted to the board, the church requested permission to hold drive-in style gatherings with acoustic instruments and two small speakers for vocals at its location at 233 Eddie Dowling Highway.

Capeles, a native of Puerto Rico, runs the church with wife Omara Capeles, holding some of the service in Spanish.

Councilor Kimberly Alves asked Capeles if he knew how many of his parishioners are North Smithfield residents, and he said none are from town.

“We’ve been affected by COVID so most of our services have been virtual,” Capeles said.

The pastor said he would be willing to pay for a police detail to measure the decibel levels during services and ensure the group followed the town’s sound ordinance.

“That’s totally fine. Of course,” he said to the request.

But Councilor Claire O’Hara noted that there’s not much foliage where the church is located. The building is by Dowling Village plaza on the opposite side of the busy highway.

“Last time we had it people were not very happy in that neighborhood because it should have been a nice quiet Sunday and it was not,” O’Hara said. “There’s not much greenery to absorb the sound. There were complaints. I’ve got great reservations.”

O’Hara added that if the church was allowed to worship outdoors on the highway, passersby may want to join them, “which would create a problem.”

Capeles said the church has only held one outdoor service, which took place a year ago and lasted less than two hours.

Members of the church held one outdoor service last year.

“We complied with every single regulation,” he said. “We’re trying to give the community and our church an escape, an opportunity and an option.”

Capeles said that before he held the service, “I went around asking all the neighbors.” Still, “there was one particular neighbor that decided to make complaints.”

Council President John Beauregard said that neighbors were not in favor of supporting the current request.

“I did my diligence on this one,” said Beauregard. “I went and I actually knocked on a few doors in the neighborhood.”

None of the councilors made a motion to support the request.

“We have all respect for you and what you’re doing so please don’t take any offense to it,” said Beauregard. “We like to keep everybody happy when we make decisions like this.”

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