The Korean-based World Mission Society Church of God, with millions of followers around the world, won its bid to convert the Pocono Dome into a church.
The Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board, after two months of hearings, and another for deliberations, accepted the church’s application for special use to hold its religious and church-related activities at the Pocono Dome Sports Complex in Sciota.
The announcement, made in a cavernous road equipment garage at the Hamilton Township Municipal Building Thursday, was met by silence from a roomful of residents among the giant plow trucks.
“Once they let us into the community, they will see how good we are for the community,” Washington D.C. church Overseer John Power said.
It was not a clean sweep, though. The board set several conditions the church will have to meet if it is to use the dome for religious and celebratory purposes.
“The board was concerned with the impact of the special use application on several issues, including sewage disposal, fire safety, traffic safety and offsite parking,” zoning board solicitor Mark Wolfe said.
Occupancy will be limited to 557 people without meal service, 370 people with paper meal service and 277 with full meal service, zoning hearing board Chairman Karl Dickl read from a prepared order.
The board will also require the church to establish sufficient sewage capacity and comply with all applicable fire safety standards. The church will be prohibited from allowing cars to park on the side roads leading to the church.
The decision was a unanimous 3 to 0 vote with one member absent and another abstaining.
Wolfe said any party with standing, those directly affected by the board’s order, can appeal the board’s decision within 30 days. It was not clear whether the church will take exception to any of the restrictions set forth by the board.
“We will work with our legal team to decide if we want to appeal anything in the next month,” Power said.
The church faced strong opposition from residents concerned about noise, traffic, sewage and emergency services access on a one-lane bridge that serves the dome and several residences. Many also fear the Korean-based church has cult-like characteristics and is inappropriate for the semi-rural area.
The order approving the special use application was written based on prior deliberations by the board.
In a previous interview, cult expert and Director of the N.J. based Cult Education Institute Rick Alan Ross said the World Mission Society Church of God believes that their female leader is God. They call her Mother God and believe that God is embodied in her. The group is also accused of demanding excessive donations and estranging families.
Ross lists The World Mission Society Church of God alongside organizations like the Waco Davidians, Neo Nazis and the Manson Family in a database of cult groups (https://www.culteducation.com/group.html.)
The database lists one of the group’s founders, Ahn Sahng-Hong, as the second coming of Jesus Christ. The World Mission Society Church of God official website also lists this claim as one of their “Truths of Life.”
The World Mission Society Church of God anticipates an initial congregation of 20 to 50 people. Special holidays, including a Passover celebration in the spring are expected to draw hundreds of congregants.
The Pocono Dome opened its 89,000 square foot multi-sport facility in Jan. 2013. Financial difficulties led to a takeover of the complex by its mortgage holder, Wells Fargo.
The church will pay $2.9 million for the sports complex, according to official documents.
— Record Multimedia Editor Ashley Catherine Fontones contributed to this story.