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Dunedin's timing of Jays' fest rankles minister

The Methodist pastor said that the city symbolically slapped him in the face.

The Rev. Joseph Teague usually keeps quiet about these things. Until now.

Last week he found out that Jays Day, a downtown celebration to launch the Toronto Blue Jays spring training season, was planned for Sunday morning at Pioneer Park. For three hours starting at 11, D-Jay, the Dunedin mascot, will pat kids on the head, and ballplayers are expected to sign autographs.

There will be a sound system.

And right across the street is First United Methodist Church, where services have started at 11 the past nine decades.

City officials have previously staged special events at Pioneer Park that make loud noise during his sermon, Teague said, events that block access to his church at 421 Main St. and that take parking spaces from churchgoers, who might decide to drive off rather than search for a spot.

"I just think it's totally improper to have events in front of a church," Teague said.

Throughout four years in Dunedin, he kept those thoughts to himself. The church has been friendly with the city, offering parking spaces during nonservice hours. Members have even sold Blue Jays tickets to raise funds.

So what cracked Teague's patience this time?

"They didn't even have the courtesy to ask me," he said about Jays Day.

No more, the pastor simmered.

On Wednesday, he met with Leisure Services director Harry Gross, Acting City Manager Maureen Freaney, a Blue Jays representative and an event organizer. They told Teague his input was valuable and that sensitivity toward church services would be applied to future events.

Gross met with Teague again Thursday and assured him that volunteers would direct people away from the church parking lot.

"The whole idea was to keep it a small, low-key event, and make it for the kids," said Gross, adding that he understood why Teague was upset. "I'd have to say he was right and that it was unintentional."

"Nobody apologized," Teague insisted to the St. Petersburg Times. "The bottom line to me is like, why do it on a Sunday? Just don't have these events 'til after church is over."

The straw that broke the camel's back . . . Jays Day, began the pastor's letter to the City Commission.

"We are upset that you did not communicate with us about events being planned on Sunday a.m.," Teague wrote. "What message are we sending the families of our community of Dunedin when we hold events during the worship hour?"

Freaney, the acting city manager, said on Friday that not informing the church was an unfortunate oversight. Many downtown institutions received a flier about the Blue Jays event, but with First United Methodist, "it was one of those that slipped through the cracks," she said.

City officials have been concerned recently over the barrage of Main Street activity. Already, 54 listings are on the special events calendar for this year.

"Our special events are what bring vibrancy to downtown," said Bob Ironsmith, economic development director. "I always look at St. Petersburg as the best big city and Dunedin as the best small city."

"It's a problem of success," Freaney agreed.

On March 9, the City Commission will meet for a planning workshop that includes a session on special events. Officials are expected to sign off on policies that prevent scheduling conflicts in the future, such as the one that prompted commissioners to cancel a professional bike race slated for next month.

In the meantime, Pastor Teague has arranged a passive-aggressive message on the church's main marquee: LET'S KEEP THE SABBATH HOLY.

He hopes Jays Day revelers can keep the noise level down.

Vanessa de la Torre can be reached at 445-4167 or vdelatorre@sppimes.com.

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