Janesville church to build 60-foot cross

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staff, Gazette
Friday, April 12, 2013

A 60-foot lighted steel cross visible from Interstate 90/39 will be erected at New Life Assembly of God Church on the city's northeast side and is considered by parishioners "a gift to the community."

The congregation at 2416 N. Wright Road has become known as the "fireworks church" or the "Freedom Fest church" because of the free festival it throws for residents to honor the Fourth of July, said the Rev. Michael Jackson, pastor at New Life.

"While Freedom Fest will continue, we want New Life to be known as the 'Church of the Cross,'" he said.

Between 500 and 600 people attend church there each Sunday, Jackson said.

Gale Price of the city community development department said the church does not need a permit for the cross because the city's attorney concluded the project is protected under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The federal law "prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches," according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

"There's certain things tied to a church's ministry that are basically hands off," Price said.

The cross is being made by an Alabama company. The metal shell is finished and will be shipped within about a week. Cost is $60,000.

The cross will be set at an angle at the corner of Wright Road and Highway 14 to maximize visibility from the Interstate.

Jackson said the new cross would be 15 feet shorter than the church's steeple, which is topped by a cross.

Church members considered erecting a 100-foot cross available from the same Alabama manufacturer.

"We just thought that was too ostentatious or gaudy for our size of property," Jackson said.

"Twenty acres will support a 60-foot cross. I'm not sure it would look right to have a 100-foot cross."

Construction begins April 29.

The cross will be the first phase of a project that eventually will include a park-like area and 4,000-square-foot pavilion, Jackson said.

Price said the cross would be shorter than a cell tower.

The church will need an electrical permit from the city for the lighting, which falls under lighting regulations and physical standards, Price said.

Jackson said the lighting would be similar to the illumination trained on the flag at Perkins Family Restaurant & Bakery.

"We are very cognizant of phantom light and how it would affect our neighbors," Jackson said.

Jackson anticipated some would complain about the cross.

"Anytime a church or a minister makes the news, a certain element in the community comes out in opposition," he said.

"We expect their criticism and their disdain, and we're well prepared for it," he said.

Jackson also anticipates some asking why the church doesn't give the money to the poor.

New Life already gives "tens of thousands of dollars" to charity, including funding a food pantry and the fireworks display for which the church raises $100,000, Jackson said.

"Anyone who knows me or New Life Assembly knows we're very, very much into our community," he said.

The cross fits with the parish's mission to make the Janesville area "Christ-conscious," Jackson said. "Everything we do here runs through that filter."

The cross will serve as a "beacon of hope," he said. "There's no greater symbol of love and sacrifice, in my opinion, than the cross of Jesus Christ."

Jackson expects the cross and park will have a positive economic impact.

"We really do believe people will want to come to Janesville to see the Janesville New Live Cross," Jackson said.

The park will be a place where people can have weddings, memorial services and youth and children's events.

The congregation planted 2,500 tulip and daffodil bulbs and 100 trees and has plans for two rose gardens.

"We see this being used eight to nine months out of the year," Jackson said.

"As a church, we really love Janesville," Jackson said.

"We will put something there that will be absolutely beautiful for our community," something residents will be proud of.

Jackson noted people are removing crosses from public areas.

"That's fine," he said. "We will put the cross up on church property."

Last updated: 10:26 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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