Deer range could shut down Oregon church’s Bible study, weddings

Oh, deer. 

Shepherdsfield Church in Sisters, Ore., hosts Bible studies year round and weddings in the warmer seasons, according to KTVZ-TV. But because it sits on the Metolius Mule deer range, it might not be able to host the events anymore.

Churches are specifically prohibited from holding events on the deer range, KTVZ reported.

“A hunting lodge has been permitted, a business office has been permitted, business storage has been permitted, plus all kinds of other things,” John Shepherd, who started the church in 2008 with his wife, told KTVZ.

“Since those things are allowed, churches have to be allowed, too,” he argued.

The Deschutes County Planning Commission said it has received more than 30 letters from people asking it to reject the church’s request to continue with its events. It rejected the request last week.

"Churches have to be allowed, too."

- John Shepherd

“Allowing churches in the winter range sets a dangerous precedent for our wildlife,” one complaint said, according to KTVZ.

Shepherd told the news station that his venue does, in fact, make concessions for wildlife. It has a large amount of land where the deer graze in the fall and winter, he said.

The Shepherds’ fight for the right to use the land isn’t new. A law firm which specializes in issues of religious land use said in September 2016 that it won a case on behalf of the Shepherdsfield Church that permitted it the use of land.

The Shepherds initially hosted weddings on the property for members of their congregation, the Bend Bulletin reported in 2014. And even then Shepherd accused the county of being abusive.

The Bend Bulletin reported that the Shepherds were repeatedly denied permits for agritourism and commercial events and private parks.

Shepherd is prepared to sue the county for the use of the land, KTVZ reported.