GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Several Gulfport residents were at Thursday's meeting of the Gulfport Planning Commission, speaking out against a proposal by a man named Father Jesus to build a church in North Gulfport.
Father Jesus Laster, CEO of the Saints of the Most High, proposed that he be allowed to build a church on Monroe Street, just south of Hwy. 49. He said the purpose of his church is to do God's work.
"We believe that God has caused us to do great things in this city," Laster said. "To build up the old ways and to, you know, just be good people and to do great things. The things that God has empowered us to do."
Some attending the meeting, as well as commissioners, questioned Laster's credentials as an ordained minister. Ward One commissioner William "Prince" Jones questioned Laster's education.
"I have two uncles who are Diocese bishops all the way from Detroit," said Laster. "And I was raised under those bishops."
Laster's appearance - wearing a robe, a crown, and two empty gun holsters - brought questions from some who pointed to past criminal charges as concern for what his church might bring to their community.
"The first thing I thought was we have our elderly 80-something-year-old grandmother who has been there all her life," said Gulfport resident Queen Graves.
Graves hoped the name "Father Jesus" signified something great, but after some digging was disappointed by what she found.
"I just wanted to know a little bit more about Father Jesus, knowing that I had never met him before, never heard of him," Graves said. "I said a man named 'Jesus,' he's got to be a man after God's own heart. But then prior to coming here, I just had to do a little bit more research on him, and I was just devastated at my findings."
At the end of her comments, Graves handed out a packet of background information on Laster, including his original papers of incorporation for The American Catholic Church Organization in 2007, as well as articles of incorporation for The Saints of the Most High, filed in September 2017. That packet also included records on seven separate arrests in South Mississippi dating back to 2013, ranging from assault to gun charges and domestic violence.
Laster conceded those offenses during his speech to the commissioners.
"Concerning any of the things you might have saw on the news, or whatever, those are things that happened upon us," Laster said. "Things like being slightly intoxicated, I have been. I celebrate like kings of old. Some of those issues where we were celebrating the Lord, there was danger present which caused us to have to defend ourselves, which also gave us a bad name."
The plans for the church originally called for a 10x10 foot structure for use by a group of three worshipers. During the meeting, Laster said those plans have been increased to 12x24 feet.
Commissioner BJ Sellers pointed out that Laster's plans did not meet city code since they were not drawn up by a professional contractor. On those grounds, a motion to deny the proposal was made and ratified by an 8 -to-1 vote.
Laster has 15 days to make an appeal on the commission's decision.