It's not unusual for municipalities to have tense relationships with churches, lodges and other 'places of assembly.' Here's a list of South Florida cities that have restricted sites for churches:
Inside the Cathedral of Love, where the Rev. Jonathan Graham jams an old-time gospel tune on the keyboard, men and women rise from their chairs, arms outstretched, necks cocked toward Heaven, praising God in a sanctuary nestled in a Miami Gardens strip mall.
Two doors down, three teenage girls are braiding their hair at another storefront church named Fire Baptism & Truth.
A large "FOR RENT" sign hangs over another storefront, a closed-down family planning center that used to be open on Monday through Saturday. But never on Sunday. On Sunday, Bunche Park Plaza is the holiest place on Unity Boulevard.
Six churches worship here. They have Jamaican, Haitian and African-American congregations. Some are solemn, others jubilant. On one end, the Cathedral of Love holds a congregation of 70. At the other is the Truly Blessed Missionary Baptist Church, whose weekly congregation averages about 10.
The Rev. William Clark of Truly Blessed quickly summarized why they have all settled here: "We have nowhere else to go."
As the northern corridor continues to attract new business, there might be one overlooked holy casualty. The land that churches used to snap up here has become more expensive -- and community leaders want to instill a different type of spirit on Unity Boulevard.
Tomorrow's hope in this historically working-class, crime-heavy area focuses on economic growth: new coffee shops, perhaps, and big-box retail, to be sure.
"Having a church on your main thoroughfare won't attract businesses," Mayor Shirley Gibson said. "If you come to church, your mindset is you're coming to worship and that's it. You're not coming to shop, or go to the movies.
"There are enough churches to serve our spiritual needs and not enough places serving our other needs," said Gibson, whose city has more than 120 houses of worship -- about six per square mile.
Squeezed out, six churches sought refuge in Bunche Park Plaza, 15978 NW 27th Ave.
Rent here is still cheap, and the old-time evangelism still sings strong.
"GOD WILL MAKE A WAY"
A reggae beat pounds from one storefront. Inside, barefoot Pastor Jean Burke leads 15 worshippers at Praise and Evangelism Miracle Ministries.
She has inserted a CD into a boombox. The crowd shakes tambourines and maracas and sings along to lyrics projected onto peach walls.
"I'm calling to Your name on high, Your presence I cannot deny, I'd tell everybody if I could, 'cause I know Lord you've been so good."
Next door, 30 worshippers have filed into God of Deliverance Christian Center. They sit before a large altar and a heart-shaped chair for the pastor. They stand and sing to a strumming guitar in Creole, then French, then English:
"God will make a way, He will make a way, He works in ways we cannot see."
The Rev. Luc Authoriste and his wife, Lea, believe that God brought them to this storefront. They were worshipping at a center along Miami Gardens Drive -- another one of the city's major thoroughfares -- when the rent became too expensive. They moved to Bunche Park in December.
To announce their arrival, they stuck a self-made banner on green construction paper to a large sign on 27th Avenue that lists the plaza's storefronts. Just a few years ago, the list was virtually empty. The plaza was a dark, moldy haven for crack and dope.
Now, on a Sunday, the parking lots are a third full. It's a testament, Lea Authoriste said, to the power of houses of worship.
It's not necessarily what property owner Ilan Aasig was going for. When his family purchased the property in 2003, just about when Miami Gardens incorporated, they were eager to capitalize on an expected tide of new businesses. Churches came first.
"It's hard to convince anyone big to come here because there's still a lot of crime," Aasig said. Two of the stores have been robbed in the past three months, Aasig said. Late Sunday night, four men were shot and two of them died in a drive-by shooting across the street.
Aasig -- who does not consider himself a religious man -- offers houses of worship a 20 percent discount. The price, from $10 to $15 a square foot, helps keep his strip mall occupied.
"With churches, we like them. No one wants to rob a church."
Still, he awaits the potential economic boost sweeping over the area just south. Between Northwest 200th and 195th streets, there are a Quizno's Sub restaurant, two banks and a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Residents love shopping there.
"These are hard economic times, and people in this area need jobs, not churches," said 29-year-old Marlon Reid as he pushed his rattling Wal-Mart shopping cart to his car. As he spoke, three local missionaries offering prayer requests were being escorted off the property.
UPLIFTING THE BOULEVARD
The challenge for Miami Gardens, several churchgoers say, is to figure out a way for both faith and money to co-exist. Already, the churches plan to host food banks and clothing drives for the community -- but many said they need time to expand.
"One day, we want to not only own our own place -- but own a place like this and operate our own businesses," Graham of the Cathedral of Love said. "And then we can attract people who can produce the finest products for the community. Just wait as we grow."
On Sundays, the call for improvement floats from church to church. Be it for ascendance to Heaven or for lowering crime rates, the worshippers talk of only one solution.
"If we ask for His help and say we need His guidance, God will deliver," Pastor Hattie Simmons told a Sunday school class at the Cathedral of Love.
Church member Annie Wiggins spoke of her own efforts on the street to "give people the news."
"I walk up and down with them, and the young people think I'm a street walker. They can't imagine that I just want to tell them, 'God is good, yo.' ... And that's why I come here.
"I'm coming here to praise Him because you need gas in the tank to keep on going."
"That's why we're all here," added another member, Lucious Brooks.
"Yes!" Simmons said. "Let's fill up the tank!"
Moments later, at Praise and Miracle, the Rev. Donald Burke is assuring churchgoers that God will save the neighborhood. He jumps onto and off the stage, his words speeding with the robust, deep voice of a DJ. Behind him is a banner with part of the 115th Psalm, "The Lord Will Increase You More and More, You and Your Children."
One Sunday, a child was waiting to be christened. Burke cradled the infant, asking that the Lord protect her from pedophiles and Satan. He lifted the baby toward the light ... shouting how God was telling him this baby was special. He began to speak in tongues.
Burke tossed the wailing child into the air, then assured: "Don't worry, I won't drop her."
He and his wife, Jean Burke, prayed for a handful of worshippers who came to the altar -- casting out demons, demanding that a man's chest pains go away, praying over a woman's headaches. Most fell to the floor at the couple's touch -- a practice the Burkes call "slaying the spirit."
That's how they intend to uplift Unity Boulevard.