Thursday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved variances to Waterford’s zoning regulations to allow for a Coptic Orthodox Church to be built at 114 Dayton Road.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the largest Christian church for Egyptians. The church is needed in the area, as the next closest Coptic Church is in Hamden, according to Fr. Abraham Azmy, the head of the Coptic Church in Connecticut.
“We have a few families in the area who have emigrated from Egypt,” Azmy said. “We are trying to get them blended into the community. So the first thing you should do is the church.”
Azmy said there is about 12 or 13 Egyptian families in the area ready to join the church. The goal of the church is to help acclimate them to the United States culture while maintaining their faith, he said.
“They have kids of all ages, and definitely because of the culture barrier, language barrier - everything barrier - we need to blend them,” Azmy said. “Otherwise we are going to lose them.”
114 Dayton Road is owned by Harvey Associates Inc of Mystic and was last a daycare center, although it has been vacant for at least five years. The company bought the land as an investment, and about five months ago the Coptic Church reached out to them to turn it into a church, Peter Harvey of Harvey Associates said.
“We fixed the building up, and (the church) came to us and said it would be perfect for them,” Harvey said. “And the use is allowed in this zone. So it is a nice fit.”
The proposal still needs to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, although it now meets all the zoning requirements, Harvey said. Then the church has to make some improvements to the parking area, and it should open, Azmy said.
About The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria dates back 19 centuries, and roughly 10 percent of Egyptians are Coptics, according to Miami Herald. The Coptics have often faced persecution from the Muslims in Egypt – the majority religion in the country – and many Coptics are now worried because the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s most recent elections, according to the Herald.
It is not easy for Coptics – or any Egyptian – to immigrate into the United States, according to the Coptic Assembly website. Coptics can move into the country after a waiting period if they have a direct family member who is a United States citizen or they can enter a highly competitive lottery, according to the website.
Another way to immigrate to the United States is for a Coptic to show they are willing to invest $1 million in America, and produce at least 10 jobs for Untied States citizens. Azmy said many of the people who live in the area have immigrated that way.
The goal of the church is to provide the 12 or 13 families some sense of home while being in the United States, Azmy said. With that, they can become part of the community and serve the country, he said.
“They are coming together at this church, they feel home, they miss home - it is such a bad feeling (to feel) you are isolated,” Azmy said. “Then we can focus them and blend them into the community and then serve this wonderful country.”