Rather than risk another lawsuit, the Odgaards stopped hosting weddings altogether. But the income loss, plus a 50-percent drop in customers’ enjoying the location’s bistro and art services, made the business unsustainable. They closed up shop in July 2015. LGBT advocates celebrated the closure as a victory. To the surprise of critics, the building reopened as a church three months later.
(WNS)–An Iowa bistro and art gallery closed last summer due to declining sales after the owners refused to rent out the facility for a gay wedding. But they recently sold the historic site to a church, which will re-open the building for traditional weddings.
In 2002, Dick and Betty Odgaard rescued from demolition a 70-year-old stone church in Grimes, a small town on the northwest corner of metropolitan Des Moines. The couple renovated the building into a family business called Görtz Haus Gallery. The family’s main source of income was to facilitate weddings in the original sanctuary.
In August 2013, Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars asked the Odgaards to host their same-sex wedding. The Odgaards declined the request, maintaining that although they had hired gay and lesbian employees and served gay customers, they could not participate in a same-sex wedding because it violated their Christian faith. The next day, Stafford and Ellars filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which launched an investigation.
A year later, the commission found probable cause the Odgaards violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The Odgaards paid $5,000 to the couple in exchange for dropping their complaint and walked away with no ruling against them. But that was not the end of their ordeal.
“Now it was public what our response would be if a gay couple walked in for a wedding ceremony,” Dick Odgaard told CNN. “Walk into the Görtz Haus, be declined, file a complaint, and collect money. I mean, we set that precedent. … We had no choice but to get out of the business.”
Rather than risk another lawsuit, the Odgaards stopped hosting weddings altogether. But the income loss, plus a 50-percent drop in customers’ enjoying the location’s bistro and art services, made the business unsustainable. They closed up shop in July 2015. LGBT advocates celebrated the closure as a victory.
To the surprise of critics, the building reopened as a church three months later.
Ryan Jorgenson, 35, senior pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel, first met the Odgaards last February when a mutual friend brought him to the gallery to discuss renting the property for Sunday services. During the meeting, Jorgenson heard the Odgaard’s story for the first time. He was shocked to find out that they had no spiritual support.
“Their prior church had turned their back on them,” Jorgenson told me, “yet, here they are, making these big stands for the Lord, taking flak, and no body of Christ is supporting them.”
Jorgenson invited the couple to visit his church, noting his upcoming sermon would present the biblical view of homosexuality at the request of a church member. Jorgenson said Betty Odgaard was shocked he was willing to preach on the subject, as so many are afraid to touch it.
“That’s the only time I’ve ever preached on it,” Jorgenson said, “[It’s] not our bandwagon, but my job as a pastor is to communicate the truth with grace and love.”
The Odgaards found a new church home as the community welcomed and embraced them, Betty Odgaard told me. And after attending for several months, the couple came to believe their loss of Görtz Haus Gallery would be God’s gain if the building once again became a real church. They met with Jorgenson and offered to sell the property to Harvest Bible. The church bought the property at the end of July and, after weeks of renovations, launched its first services last Sunday.
Weddings will be held once again in the building, limited for now to church members, Jorgenson said.
As word got out about the sale, some of the Odgaards’ opponents turned their anger on Harvest Bible, posting angry comments on its Facebook page.
“Every person that has put a disagreement comment on our Facebook page, I always personally contact them,” Jorgenson said. “I’m nice and gentle, and offer to meet face to face: ‘Let’s have a reasonable and cordial conversation. Why do you believe what you do?’”
So far, no one has taken him up on the offer, instead posting a mean-spirited reply or blocking him on Facebook, Jorgenson said. But he hopes one day someone will because his “heart breaks for them to know and experience Jesus’ love for them.”
Jorgenson likened the Odgaards’ hardships to the trials that befell the Old Testament’s Joseph, with the same result: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
“The spiritual enemy thinks they got a victory, shut a business down. But now God says, ‘I’m going to bring a church into this building and His message of design and marriage will reach a hundred-fold more than [before],” Jorgenson said.
© 2015 World News Service. Used with permission.