Not everyone is smiling about the green lights that were put up in the steeple clock at the First Baptist Church on Public Square for St. Patricks Day.
The Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith is not happy that his century-old church is being used to promote this weekends North Country Goes Green Irish Festival. He insists the green floodlights will give people the perception he and his church condone the consumption of beer at this weekends events.
This is our house of worship. It is not a billboard, he said. We call our church the Lighthouse on the Square. This cheapens our church.
The pastor said he believes the city should have been more sensitive to his parishioners, some of whom are recovering alcoholics and former drug users.
Instead, green lights should be placed in the Woolworth Building, somewhere along Public Square or on some other nearby building, but not in the steeple of his church, he said.
On Monday night, the Watertown City Council informally agreed for the city to illuminate the church steeple clock with green lights for the festival. Council members initially had denied the request by festival organizers. After figuring out a safe way of climbing up the steeple, Department of Public Works employees installed the green floodlights Wednesday.
But the Rev. Mr. Smith said he was never consulted about the lights. So he called both City Manager Mary. M. Corriveau and Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham about his concerns. He got nowhere with either of them, he said.
She told me that was my opinion, and she didnt agree with me, he said, adding he did not have a problem with the city installing red and green lights for the Christmas season.
While the church owns the structure, the city maintains and owns the clock, Mrs. Corriveau said.
It is not so much were promoting the Irish festival, she said, but were honoring the Irish heritage of the community.
And thats not much different from the city placing an Italian flag in front of City Hall for Columbus Day, putting a flag up for the American Red Cross or putting up yellow ribbons along Public Square to honor soldiers serving the country, she said.
City Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, who lobbied to light the steeple clock up green, agreed. He wondered whether the pastors remarks were taking political correctness too far.
Im being facetious, but we can say the same thing about green milkshakes at McDonalds, he said. Are we promoting obesity during St. Patricks Day because they sell them there?
To defend the citys decision, the mayor said the city was boxed into a corner in honoring the request. Looking back, maybe council members should have taken the city managers advice to deny the request since it set a precedent with the potential of many other organizations wanting different colored lights installed in the clock.
I dont think it was bad gesture. I think the politics of it was difficult. It was better to agree to it and move on, he said.
Festival organizer Sean M. Hennessey said he was surprised the Rev. Mr. Smith was making a fuss about the green lights because he had called church officials about the idea.
Its a family event and always has been a family event, he said. No one had made an issue prior to this. Its a little late in the game.