Edward Davis Jr. simply wanted to hold a memorial service in his church for his son, who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb in late April.
Instead, the grieving father found himself at the center of a battle between the church and a suburban Chicago village, with each side accusing the other of using the planned service for Sgt. Edward Davis III to gain leverage in a building code dispute.
“I just want to have a service for my son,” said Davis, a member of Cornerstone Community Church in Wadsworth, a community of about 3,000 residents near the Wisconsin line. “This is my way of having closure here.”
On Friday, one day after the matter moved to federal court with a church request for an emergency restraining order to allow the continued use of the building, the village granted a temporary occupancy permit that the village president said is good for 30 days — time enough to have the service.
But the question remains of whether Davis was a victim of the village where he lives or was used by the church where he worships.
‘A second tragedy’
The way the church tells it, the village board was willing to hold up a service for someone who gave his life for his country because, of all things, the church has not yet landscaped the property.
Davis “faces a second tragedy as his hometown has forbidden a memorial service,” according to a news release from a public relations firm working for the church.
“The city thought they could push around this little church,” said John Mauck, the church’s attorney.
Village officials argue that the whole dispute has less to do with honoring a fallen Marine than a church using the service to get what it really wants — unlimited use of a building before getting the necessary permits to move in.
The church began building a parking lot without getting any of the proper permits, said Glenn Ryback, a member of the village board.
“These folks, when they started this church, they tried to skate around every requirement by saying, ’We’re a church,”’ Ryback said. “Whenever there was a requirement they looked for a way to get around it and this is just another in a series of trying to avoid the requirements.”
On Tuesday, the church elder in charge of the building project appeared before the board. At issue was whether the church could continue to hold services at the building, as it had done for more than two months.
Mark Stricklin said that the church only started holding services there when a building inspector gave his verbal approval, but the Village Board President Ken Furlan said the building inspector told him he never did any such thing, meaning that the services were illegal.
Stricklin said he told the village board that he wanted to continue to have Sunday services and the church also needed to use the building on June 15 for a service for 31-year-old Sgt. Davis.
Furlan and William Stanczak, the village attorney, said they don’t recall Stricklin saying anything about the memorial service. Ryback said that, yes, Stricklin did mention the service, but he didn’t dwell on it.
“He rolled right into having weekly services in the church,” Ryback said.
Had Stricklin asked for permission to hold the memorial service, village officials are confident the board would have given it.
“They’re a bunch of nice people on this board,” Stanczak said.
For his part, Stricklin said he never specifically asked for just the memorial because he didn’t want to “politicize” things by singling out the service.
“That wasn’t the issue for us as a church,” he said. “What would that have given us beyond June 15?”
Even as the village gave the church temporary permission to hold services in the building — despite the fact that Friday’s inspection revealed that construction on the building is not complete — Furlan said there is only one reason why the village is granting the temporary permit: Give the church time to hold a memorial service for Sgt. Davis.
“After that we need to address the church and what it is doing,” he said.