Houston’s Fifth Ward is known for its history of violence and crime. In 1979, Texas Monthly called it “Texas’ toughest, proudest, baddest ghetto.” But this is exactly where Bishop Roy Lee Kossie felt called by God to plant a church. The Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center opened its doors on Lyon Avenue in 1965.
“When we moved into this area, it was considered the highest crime rate area in the city of Houston,” Bishop Kossie says. “People shot first and asked questions later. But we loved these people. We loved this community. We knew this was exactly where we needed to be.”
Several years later Pastor Quinton Smith was called as the pastor of the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in the same neighborhood.
After decades of serving in the community, the two churches helped transform the Fifth Ward into a safer place. The Latter Day church used to be flanked by a nightclub and a “honky-tonk.” Today, both establishments are gone, replaced by a church-run food pantry and youth ministry center. Over the years, the church developed outreach programs to minister to drug addicts, alcoholics, and gang members.
Bishop Kossie loves to share how a young Black Panther came to the church, was saved, and now serves as a law enforcement officer. He also notes that since the founding of the church, violence in the Fifth Ward has decreased, alcoholism has declined, marriages have been saved, and children are thriving. Bishop Kossie attributes this to the blessing of God and the faithfulness of church leaders, who have reached out to the community for decades with love, patience, and faith.
Pastor Quinton Smith says his favorite thing about pastoring is how he gets to serve the children of the community by hosting vacation Bible schools and Christmas bicycle giveaways, along with counseling young couples.
As downtown Houston expanded, the property values of Fifth Ward soared. The HHA began an aggressive urban redevelopment plan, seeking to bulldoze older establishments to make way for more profitable, taxable business.
After unsuccessfully pressuring both Bishop Kossie and Pastor Smith to sell their neighboring church properties, the HHA threatened to condemn the land owned by both churches, bulldozing the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church building to use the collective space to generate business tax revenue and build public housing units.
Pastor Smith, pastor of the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church for 39 years, remembers a certain visit from an HHA representative.
“He said, from this pulpit, ‘I’d like to buy the property,'” Smith recalled. “‘But if you don’t sell it to me, eminent domain will get it. ‘”
“He said, from this pulpit, ‘I’d like to buy the property. But if you don’t sell it to me, eminent domain will get it.'”
“This is our home,” Bishop Kossie said. “This is where the Lord called us to serve and this is where we want to stay. We aren’t giving up without a fight.” “We’ve been here for years,” Pastor Smith said during the legal struggle. “We’ve watched the children grow up. We’ve been a safe place for them when things are bad at home. If the city makes us leave the Fifth Ward, what will happen to the children? We just want the HHA to leave us alone so we can keep helping these kids.
On August 4, 2015, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the HHA, asserting that the HHA was violating Texas’ religious freedom law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They noted that the churches have served as pillars in the Fifth Ward’s spiritual and social community for decades and that the HHA’s actions would force the churches out of the community they have served and help transform for over half a century.
“These churches have served this community for decades,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “They’ve held the neighborhood together through a lot of hard times. It’s tragic that the HHA wants to take the churches’ property away and give it to someone else, just so they can make money. The government cannot take a church’s property and give it to some other business in violation of the law. These churches, their congregations, and this neighborhood are not for sale.”
After a hearing on August 31, 2015, the HHA rescinded their threat to bulldoze the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.
Two months later in October, the victory became complete when the HHA voluntarily dismissed all eminent domain proceedings against Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center, as well.
“This is a significant victory for churches everywhere, and a lesson for the government authorities on all levels,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty, “that you can’t just take a church’s property for the purpose of increasing tax revenue or for public use.”
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Lawsuit filed by First Liberty on behalf of Latter Day Deliverance Revival Center and Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church against City of Houston