Deschutes County

Deschutes rural wedding flap turns to church

County says homeowner needs permits to hold services

SISTERS, Ore. - A Sisters-area landowner involved in a lengthy dispute with Deschutes County over weddings on his farm-zoned property has been warned he needs land-use permits to hold services in his home.

The Bulletin newspaper ( ) reports 56-year-old John Shepherd is a pastor, and hosts services out of his home on the property, with about a dozen regular attendees.

Shepherd was angered by a March 18 letter from the county that warns of an alleged county code violation in holding services without required land use approval.
Shepherd says he's emailed a Christian civil liberties group for guidance and calls the notice a likely violation of his First Amendment rights.

County Community Development Director Nick Lelack told NewsChannel 21 Saturday that Shepherd recently registered his "house-church" with the Oregon Secretary of State as a church. He said, "Shepherd and at least one member of the public have stated publicly to Deschutes County that he conducts church services on his property."

"Under Deschutes County Code, which is in compliance with state law (regarding) the Exclusive Farm Use zone, a church requires land use and potentially building permits," Lelack wrote.

"A code enforcement case has been opened, but the county has not ordered him to stop conducting services or issued citations," Lelack added. "We are in the process of researching the issue, but not proceeding with any code enforcement actions at this time."

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