Jerry Guess had never seen anything quite like it in his quiet neighborhood near Wildwood Preserve Metropark: a naked man running around in a nearby yard on a Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Guess of Bonsels Parkway was outside at noon May 6 doing yard work when he caught a glimpse of a religious ritual in which the naked “May King” was bound to a pole while revelers danced around him with multicolored ribbons.
Mr. Guess, 59, called police and spurred an investigation that prosecutors say will lead to misdemeanor charges of public indecency against the “May King”: David Mountbatten of 5607 Bonsels.
Township officials also are concerned about possible zoning violations by the state-registered religious organization known as the Spirit Weavers that operates out of Mr. Mountbatten's home.
“This cannot happen in a residential area and where children can see,” Mr. Guess said yesterday. “The man was naked and he should not have been - period. That's it in a nutshell. It was a fleeting glance, but I saw what I saw.”
A spokesman for the Spirit Weavers, which is a branch of the Toledo-based Church of All Worlds, said the ritual was never intended to be viewed by anyone but the participants.
“It's like a wedding ceremony,” said Jim Looman, the 45-year-old vice president for the Church of All Worlds who attended the ceremony. “He is being bound to the tribe and the Earth. ... It's a small part of a two-day ritual, and a neighbor just happened to capture a very brief glimpse. There were precautions taken not to offend the neighbors' sensibilities.”
The Spirit Weavers, which has 40 members in the area, had constructed a fence, put up a tent, and strategically placed plants to try and preserve privacy, Mr. Looman said. The group mistakenly did not cover a walkway and apparently the ceremony could be seen from an angle.
The focus of the group is on personal spiritual growth, the notion that the Earth is a living organism, and the promotion of strong interpersonal relationships, according to Mr. Looman.
The ritual included a May Queen in a white dress. Mr. Mountbatten was “baring his soul, he's a newborn, and married to the land,“ Mr. Looman said.
During the ceremony, the dancers used multicolored ribbons and tied the May King to the pole. The pagan ritual goes back to pre-Christian days, Mr. Looman said. The May Queen was not naked because that's not a part of the tradition.
The Church of All Worlds, which Mr. Looman said has 500 local members, believes in the reawakening of Mother Earth and the reuniting of her children. “The basic belief is the Earth is a living organism,” Mr. Looman said
Mr. Guess said he was unaware the Spirit Weavers were operating out of a house in his neighborhood until the May 6 incident.
After police responded to the call, Mr. Mountbatten, 39, dressed and indicated he was voluntarily participating in the ceremony, police said. The church's priest, Ronn Koester, who also lives at 5607 Bonsels, produced documents about its state certification and nonprofit status, the police report said.
Mr. Koester and Mr. Mountbatten could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mr. Looman said they are in California.
Sylvania prosecutors said Mr. Mountbatten will be charged with public indecency, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
The church also has problems with township zoning officials.
Mr. Koester has until May 29 to respond to their request that he acquire a conditional use permit to operate the church from his residence. That requires approval from the Sylvania Township board of zoning appeals.
Zoning officials said two fences on the property are not in compliance - one is too high and the other was put up without permission.
Michelle Wagner, assistant Sylvania prosecutor, said the case raises questions about the freedom of religion versus the rights of the neighbors.
“Doing something in the name of religion does not excuse you from following the law,” she said.
Frank S. Merritt, a professor of law at the the University of Toledo, said U.S. Supreme Court has made several rulings regarding religious practices that violate laws.
“The basic rule is that states cannot restrict beliefs, but can restrict practice,” he said.
Neighbors just don't want it happening again.
“I'm concerned about that type of behavior in my neighborhood,” said Jerry Beeching, who has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years. “I just don't feel that should be going on. ... We are Christian people, and that type of behavior doesn't fit. I haven't seen other people running around nude.”