An Episcopal pastor who was detained by police and threatened with arrest if he refused to stop feeding the homeless outside of a Fort Lauderdale park Sunday has no plans to stop his outdoor ministry to the poor.
The Rev. Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, Florida, told TheBlaze Wednesday about how police abruptly shut down a homeless food distribution that he was participating in over the weekend before briefly detaining him and two others.
Sims said that he was charged along with Arnold Abbott, 90, who feeds the poor through his group Love Thy Neighbor, and Pastor Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, with violating a new ordinance restricting food distribution to the poor.
"We got there and Arnold, who does the feeding and has been doing it for 20 years, and his crew set everything up," Sims said of the Sunday outreach. "I was there that day to help serve [the food] ... People were lined up waiting in line to be served and we started handing out plates."
But he said that the group, which had assembled on a sidewalk outside Stranahan Park, was only able to hand out a few plates before police stepped in and shut down the operation.
"Police came up and said, 'That's it. That's enough. Stop right now,'" Sims said. "We had no recourse other than to stop."
While the faith leader said that the police were cordial and only doing their jobs, he described being issued a criminal citation along with Abbott and Black. The three were told that they would need to appear in court, though a date has not been set; they were not arrested, but were briefly detained at the site.
"We were ordered to stop. We were detained. We were told that if we cooperated with them we would be issued a notice to appear," Sims told TheBlaze. "And if we refused to sign the notice to appear, acknowledging that we were in receipt of criminal citation — or refused to stop feeding that day — we would be handcuffed and taken to jail."
The men complied and the food was packed up and moved to another location.
Asked whether he or Abbott have plans to stop feeding the poor outdoors, though, Sims simply said, "No," noting that his faith is at the center of his good works. He noted that Abbott has plans to distribute food near a local beach Wednesday night.
WPLG-TV reported that the men could face up to two months in jail and a $500 fine.
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"I think it's a social justice issue and as a priest I think we're called by Christ to be humanitarians and to compassionately care for one another," he said. "Whether we're homeless or hungry, that's exactly what the gospel is calling us to do — it's exactly what the entire Bible is calling us to do."
Sims said that the city has a lot of work to do to curb the homelessness problem and that he believes it is the responsibility of residents to help care for one another.
Fort Lauderdaleapproved food distribution restrictions last month, sparking intense controversy. The new restrictions require organizations distributing food outdoors to provide porta-potties for both their workers and the homeless. Additionally, feeding sites cannot be within 500 feet from one another.
Abbott, who has won in court against the city over similar issues in the past, has pledged to take legal action if necessary, with Sims telling TheBlaze that he is open to the same.
A recent report took aim at restrictions aimed at homeless food distributions, calling them ineffective and based on mistaken myths.
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