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Church Official Alleges Harassment

Congregation's Plans to Move Spur Bomb Threats, Phone Calls, Minister Says

By Toyia R. Battle

An area minister's efforts to set up a church for a congregation of about 200 Black Haitian worshippers in North Cambridge have resulted in a string of anonymous phone calls and bomb threats over the past four months, a church representative said yesterday.

Ever since October, when the Rev. Tomas St. Louis laid out plans to convert a small woodworking shop in the mostly white neighborhood into a new site for his New Covenant Universal Church, nearby residents have complained that the church would create serious noise and parking problems.

But St. Louis said yesterday that the threats and other incidents of harassment had convinced him that the neighborhood is opposed to the church's presence because of the racial makeup of the predominantly Black congregation.

"We feel we're part of the community and want to integrate ourselves into the community--most of us live and work there," St. Louis said. "They just don't want us there because we're Black."

St. Louis said a woman who refused to give her name called his lawyer several weeks ago and said the neighborhood did not want the Haitians there. Since October, the church has received bomb threats on two separate occasions, he said.

Neighborhood residents also tried unsuccessfully to block St. Louis' efforts to get a permit from the city Board of Zoning Appeal in October, he said.

Residents of Harvey St. and the surrounding area, where St. Louis hopes to establish the church, opposed the church on the grounds that St. Louis' 200-strong congregation would cause parking problems and disturb residents.

"Harvey St. is a 20-foot-wide street, very congested and has inadequate parking to support such a large congregation," said Judy A. Miskell, an area resident who has actively opposed the church's establishment. "This building is going from a two-man woodworking shop, very low-impact, to a 200- to 300-person congregation."

"Sunday is the only day of quiet and the neighborhood appreciates it," Miskell said.

But St. Louis still got his permit, by pointing out that the residents' parking concerns are unfounded.

Seventy-five percent of the congregation lives within four blocks of the proposed building, St. Louis said. His congregation also bought a van to pick up members who would need to commute, he said.

In addition, St. Louis said he obtained permission in principal from a nearby business to use its parking lot on Sundays, until pressure from residents led the business to withdraw from the agreement.

St. Louis said the first threat came in October, when the principal of the school where the church is currently holding services received an anonymous phone call which threatened to bomb the school on the following Sunday.

Although Cambridge police searched the school and failed to find any explosive, the threat was repeated again two weeks ago--with the same result, he said.

St. Louis' six-year old congregation has never had a permanent church, and is seeking to establish a home in North Cambridge.

"We'd like to stay in Cambridge because most of them live down there and don't have transportation," St. Louis said.

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