Take time to consider issue

If you go to church today, say a prayer city of Johnstown officials handle a recent request very carefully.

St. John’s Episcopal Church wants the city to help with a $400,000 renovation project for the church and nearby former YMCA building it owns.

The church would like to expand its food pantry and put it at the old YMCA building, at 1 Church St., which needs repairs and has to be handicapped-accessible. The building also would be used as an emergency shelter.

The church bell tower and foundation also need to be improved.

The church is interested in obtaining a grant to help it pay for the work it has planned.

That’s where the city comes in: The church is looking to have the city of Johnstown provide a letter of support and for the city to be the grant applicant.

While that sounds simple, city officials rightfully noted they need to bear in mind how the request affects the separation of church and state.

The topic is one that engenders strong feelings and opinions. It is a complicated issue, touching on matters public and private, mundane and profound – and has led to innumerable debates.

That is why Johnstown must be especially careful when it comes to this matter.

We have our own concerns about the project, as it relates to the church-state issue. While the food pantry work will surely benefit the public, how does the work at the church benefit the public?

Also, will assisting one church force the city to help other churches that request the same thing? To be blunt: Helping well-known congregations is going to be relatively easy for most politicians; if a religious group that holds unpopular opinions comes to the city seeking help, would it get the same benefit?

Complicating things is the church appears to be operating under a deadline. A consultant previously noted a state Consolidated Funding Application for grant money is due July 31.

Johnstown officials may feel they need to make a quick decision. However, we hope they take the time to make the right decision – and be able to explain to their constituents why it is the right choice.