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NYC church plans "pop-up" approach in Montauk

William J. Wilkinson, a Republican, is the supervisor

William J. Wilkinson, a Republican, is the supervisor of the Town of East Hampton. (June 18, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Joseph D. Sullivan

The people who run Liberty Church in Lower Manhattan say Montauk has just about everything they could want for the summer -- places that could be used to worship, young congregants out for the weekend, and of course the sun and the beach.

But before the nondenominational Christian church sets out on its planned pilgrimage down Montauk Highway, East Hampton officials say it needs just one more thing -- a permit for its planned "pop-up church."

Liberty officials can't just set up their planned church in some local restaurant on Sunday mornings.

"We haven't heard from them," said Town Supervisor William Wilkinson. "They would need a mass gathering permit, at the least."

Those permits are required for any special event that has a big crowd, or when a building is used for a very different purpose that draws a large crowd. An existing church, for example, would not need the permit for regular services, but would have to get one if it held a big art show or concert, officials say.

Liberty Church, which holds Sunday services in TriBeCa and Union Square and plans to open a third, still undetermined, location in Brooklyn in the fall, says holding Sunday morning summer services at a Montauk restaurant or tavern such as Ruschmeyer's or the Surf Lodge is a natural outreach, especially because some of its congregants -- people in their mid- and late 20s -- go to Montauk on weekends.

"It's a concept a lot of retailers use for seasonal events," said Parker Green, a pastor at the Liberty's Union Square church. "Some clubs in the city use it as well. We could have a church at a single location or several locations over the summer in Montauk."

Green said those busy places -- filled on Saturday nights by hundreds of partygoers -- are relatively empty the next morning when services would be held.

"We really love Montauk and its people," he said. "We're working on the details now."

The church has no contract to hold its worship service at a specific location, and Green said the church leaders had not met with town officials. They plan to take that step once Liberty Church has a better idea of where it would like to hold services.

Green expects that to be in early May, a few weeks before Memorial Day.

But Wilkinson, who has dealt with traffic problems and noise complaints generated by big weekend crowds at Ruschmeyer's and the Surf Club, said any use of those buildings as a church would need to be reviewed for traffic impact and town fire codes, because they were never designed to be houses of worship.

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