Augusta church celebrates 25 years of ministry to gays, lesbians

  • Follow Your Faith

A rainbow flag hangs from the front of the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer during Pride weekend in Augusta. There’s a basket of condoms in the fellowship hall, brochures on HIV/AIDS in the narthex, and resources for “coming out” on the church Web site.

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The Rev. Lisa Heilig delivers her sermon during a service at the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer in Augusta. The church is celebrating 25 years of "radically inclusive ministry" this weekend.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
The Rev. Lisa Heilig delivers her sermon during a service at the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer in Augusta. The church is celebrating 25 years of "radically inclusive ministry" this weekend.

It’s a unique ministry offered for all people, founded in but reaching beyond Augusta’s gay and lesbian community, said the Rev. Lisa Heilig, the interim pastor. This weekend, the church celebrates 25 years of “radically inclusive ministry in the CSRA.”

The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator and worldwide leader of Metropo­litan Community Churches, will speak at a 25th anniversary celebration Sunday. In January, Wilson, a member of the President’s Advisory Coun­cil on Faith-based and Neighbor­hood Partnerships, became the
first openly gay person to read Scrip­ture at a presidential inauguration event.

“We are honored to have her here,” Heilig said. “She’s an incredible social justice advocate. She’s been doing this work for 40 years and has some stories to tell.”

The Augusta church is part of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, an international denomination founded by a defrocked Pentecostal pastor in 1968.

For 44 years, the group has offered a “ministry of inclusion” to minorities, especially gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Today, there are nearly 250 MCC churches in 40 countries.

The Augusta church grew from a small band of less than a dozen to more than 60 under the leadership of the Rev. Jeff Pullium. He retired last May after 15 years as the church’s part-time pastor.

“We’ve grown and matured,” he said. “We started as a bunch of gay people who wanted to address their spirituality. We’ve become something more. Now, there’s a diversity
that says sexuality isn’t the only defining factor. We’re a church for all people.”

As the church begins the search for a new pastor, the congregation is setting its sights on what role it wants to play in Augusta.

“They’re very concerned about making sure people in the larger community know there’s a place they can come and worship any way that they are,” said Heilig, who was in seminary to become a United Methodist pastor when she fell in love with a woman, now her partner of 18 years.

It would surprise most people to learn that the congregation is “25 to 35 percent straight,” she said.

“It’s pretty much a mainline church. It’s a worship service,” complete with choir robes, prayers, music and communion, Heilig said.

“We do holy unions. Of course there’s nothing legal about it in Georgia and South Carolina, but to have a ceremony and a rite of passage and commitment to one another is meaningful,” she said.

The church offers baptisms for babies of same-sex couples and is the host of an annual World AIDS Day service. It used to be a site for HIV/AIDS testing and organized anti-bullying vigils in support of gay and lesbian youths.

It also participates in the ministries of the Downtown Coop­er­ative Church Minis­tries, gives to food pantries and “adopts” a nursing home each Christmas.

Some members report facing overt homophobia, and several declined to be interviewed or have their photograph taken. The church, however, has had few problems since settling into a former Lutheran church on Greene Street.

“It takes a lot of courage to walk through the doors and risk being seen,” said Dr. David Stepp, a researcher at Georgia Regents University and a founder of Augusta Pride. “They’re relieved to hear, ‘You’re good. You’re loved.’ ”

Some members were fearful when the church started holding events and making itself more visible in the community a few years back, Pullium said.

“People were like, ‘People are going to throw bricks through the windows,’ but they haven’t,” he said.

If there’s bullying or discrimination, it’s usually not from strangers, Heilig said.

“Often the bullying and abuse comes from their own families,” she said.

On a weekly basis, people contact the church with questions about what it means to be gay and Christian, or whether such a thing
is even possible, Heilig said. Their first question is usually, “Are gay people going to hell?”

“Here’s my answer: ‘Most of the gay people I know have already been to hell and back,’ ” she said. “If we look very carefully at what Jesus said, Jesus was much more concerned about what we’re doing right here, right now and how we treat each other now than where
we’re going to end up at some point in the future when we die.”

Ann Willbrand grew up Catholic. Fifteen years ago, she found the Augusta church.

“I was feeling a need to reconnect,” said Willbrand, a retired professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and a faculty adviser of its Gay Straight Alliance.

“Every sermon is about God’s love and acceptance,” Willbrand said. “It’s a welcoming church. It’s an inclusive church. Nobody’s going to walk out after a
service and feel bad about themselves. We proclaim a ministry of God’s inclusive love.”

That’s intentional, Heilig said.

“It’s an amazing thing to be able to stand up every week and be able to say, ‘Every­one is welcome,’ ” she said.

CELEBRATION SERVICE

WHAT: The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator and leader of Metropolitan Community Churches worldwide, speaks at the 25th anniversary service of the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer

WHEN: 11 a.m. Sunday

WHERE: Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer, 557 Greene St.

LEARN MORE: Call (706) 722-6454 or visit mccoor.com.

MCC HISTORY IN AUGUSTA

OCT. 24, 1987: First organizational meeting held

NOV. 29, 1987: First service held in the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta

APRIL 21, 1991: The Rev. Joe Whitley becomes the church’s first pastor

NOV. 17, 1992: The church moves to 609 Shartom Drive and Debbie Rutledge is chosen as lay leader of the congregation

APRIL 1993: Jeff Pullium becomes lay leader of the church

1996: Services move to the Ramada Hotel

MARCH 1997: The church relocates to 924 Greene St.

NOVEMBER 1998: Pullium is named pastor

MAY 2000: The church moves to 311 7th St.

FALL 2000: The Metropolitan Community Church of Augusta officially changes its name to the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer.

SEPT. 29, 2003: The church purchases its current building at 557 Greene St.

MAY 2012: Pullium retires and the church begins the search for a new pastor

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saywhatagain
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saywhatagain 03/22/13 - 06:58 pm
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Sad

“Every sermon is about God’s love and acceptance,” Willbrand said.
If God is only about "love and acceptance", I guess Jesus allowed himself to be brutally tortured and crucified on a Roman cross for nothing. Someone should have told Him that God the Father already had it covered.

Jake
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Jake 03/22/13 - 08:03 pm
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Joyous

Glad to read about a church that has extended God's love to the fullest extent for people who "don't quite fit in" with the expected norms of the traditional Christian experience.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 03/22/13 - 08:14 pm
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Heilig said “Here’s my

Heilig said “Here’s my answer: ‘Most of the gay people I know have already been to hell and back,’ ” she said. “If we look very carefully at what Jesus said, Jesus was much more concerned about what we’re doing right here, right now and how we treat each other now than where we’re going to end up at some point in the future when we die.”

Oh Ms. Heileg, how the father of lies has deceived you. Gays don't even have a taste of what hell is, none of us do. Jesus came to earth to save lost mankind and call us to repentance. That is what His purpose was for being born, dying on a cross, and being raised from the dead. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:10) I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9) so yes, it does seem to matter to Him where we spend eternity.

What Ms. Heileg and many others fail to understand is that gays are welcome in most churches but instead of overlooking sin and mingling with the world such as a social club, true Christian churches will address sinful behavior, pray and seek God's guidance, and call for repentance so that the sinner may be forgiven and the fellowship with Christ restored.

Seems to me that Ms. Heileg's church is more of a welcoming social club instead of a God lead church.

InChristLove
22485
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InChristLove 03/22/13 - 08:18 pm
10
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Jake, to show God's love to

Jake, to show God's love to the fullest extent isn't to tickle someone's ears but to show them the way to the cross. To lead them to Jesus through love but they must get rid of the sin and ask for forgiveness first. Continuing to repeat sinful behavior is not repentance and without it there is no relationship with Christ.

Do you think to truly love a child you let that child behave as it likes without showing it the error of his/her ways? Is that true love?

Dixieman
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Dixieman 03/23/13 - 08:23 pm
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7,809,776 POINTS

Yeah, yeah, nice lady, lotsa compassion, big on "social justice," eloquent speaker, all that good stuff. But is this Christianity? Nope.

GiantsAllDay
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GiantsAllDay 03/22/13 - 08:55 pm
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Good people of the

Good people of the Metropolitan Community Church: I wish you the best of luck in accomplishing your mission. But you know as we'll as I that Augusta, GA is not a haven for religious tolerance. When I first read this article my first thought was that of Boo-Boo the bear saying "Evangelicals are not going to like this, Yogi". And right off the bat we have a person (I'm assuming an adult) commenting on a place and a being that doesn't even exist. My next prediction is that this will evolve into a discussion on same sex marriage. Divorce is at nearly 60% in this country I believe, which the heterosexuals have done all on their own. Gay marriage can only give the institution a boost, not endanger it further. The real threat to marriage is that many people just don't feel the need to be married--gay or straight. Many people have realized you can have a great life with or without it. If marriage is endangered, it is because of selfishness, immaturity, recklessness, and good old fashioned incompatibility-- not because two people of the same sex wish to have equal rights. News bulletin: straight people can still get married even if gay people can too.

Jake
33966
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Jake 03/22/13 - 09:13 pm
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Tolerance and Love

I sure am glad that I have been shown the righteous path by the true believers of Jesus. You folks are so wrapped up in dogma that you can't see the big picture. Straining at gnats and swallowing camels comes to mind along with the mote and beam eye routine.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 03/22/13 - 09:31 pm
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GAD, the discussion of gay

GAD, the discussion of gay marriage didn't even come into play until you brought it up....now why is that? Up until you posted this was about whether this "church" was teaching along biblical lines. By the way, you don't have to believe in God or heaven and hell and that's fine, not everyone does. I, along with many others, do, but we don't continuously poke fun at you because you don't.....could you extend the same respect.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 03/22/13 - 09:35 pm
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Jake, you failed to answer

Jake, you failed to answer the question. If your child decided to do something dangerous would you warn her or would you let her do as she wishes. Which is love, to warn her of the danger, or is it love to keep your mouth shut and let her do as she pleases.

Simple question.

southern2
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southern2 03/22/13 - 09:49 pm
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"Augusta church celebrates 25

"Augusta church celebrates 25 years of ministry to gays, lesbians" Thought lesbians were gay?

Jake
33966
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Jake 03/22/13 - 10:42 pm
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Simple answer

What you consider to be dangerous and what others consider to be dangerous may not be the same. Smoking has been shown to be hazardous to your health but do you still smoke? It is your choice to do so, if you still do, and this is what this article is all about. Choice.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 03/22/13 - 11:13 pm
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4
Yes, it is about choices and

Yes, it is about choices and I've been smoke free almost a year, thank you very much. It's a wonderful feeling to be free of such an addicting habit. You are still avoiding answering what you constitute at true love and it doesn't matter how dangerous it is, the danger is there. Remember you are the one that made this comment "Glad to read about a church that has extended God's love to the fullest extent"

My point is if you love someone, then you'll provide all the information necessary to make a wise choice. Some would rather paint a rosy picture and not express the ugly details like consequences for the action to make the appearance of love, when in reality it isn't love but selfishness. If I smoke and I know it's bad for me that is one thing. But if I smoke and encourage my friend to smoke, knowing that it is dangerous but encourage my friend to believe everything is okay, then is my action love.......I think not.

Young Fred
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Young Fred 03/23/13 - 12:58 am
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4
Yep, it's all about tolerance

Yep, it's all about tolerance and love, when given a message you agree with.

Of course the fact that the message has absolutely no background in scripture means nothing. Oh sure, some try to stretch certain segments to mean what they will, we all know what is meant, as they know. It is a stretch – a very long stretch.

We are told to love all, this seems to be the rallying point of the pro twisteds. And we do love all. Doesn't mean we have to accept all as being equal. Doesn't mean we have to love all behavior.

I guess anybody can start a group, pick and choose what they will or will not follow, interpret words as they see fit, pat themselves on the back, and get the Chronicle to write a gushing story about them. Nothing is written in stone is it? We can choose that which we wish to follow and ignore the rest – correct? If certain parts of scripture is uncomfortable, why we can just ignore – no?

Young Fred
20528
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Young Fred 03/23/13 - 01:06 am
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There are literally hundreds

There are literally hundreds of churches in this area that have a history of 25 years of ministry. Or more.

Jake
33966
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Jake 03/23/13 - 01:07 am
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ICL

Congrats on quitting.

Truth Matters
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Truth Matters 03/23/13 - 04:20 am
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1
Christ like

Funny some who profess their following of Christ ignore one basic tenant of Christianity: If thou confess with thou mouth and believe with thou heart thou shall be saved. I know one man who has professed his Christianity only to be called by name and inference the antichrist and a Muslim by the evangelicals. If one gets this treatment from so-called Christians, I hardly see them fit to correct a group such as this.

carcraft
28418
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carcraft 03/23/13 - 06:13 am
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Christ mentioned hell more

Christ mentioned hell more than about any thing else! Christ also warned about false teachers so beware of what teachers you allow to lead and teach you!

nocnoc
49121
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nocnoc 03/23/13 - 07:08 am
5
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Jesus said it

In KJV John 8.1 (7 to 11)
Jesus said

Go forth and Sin No More.

If anyone that has sinned repents and upholds this requirement, they are forgiven. If they continue in sin, then they are still sinners according to the very bible they have chosen to embrace.

I have always felt this meant
when regarding Moral Sins, that do not harm others, that I as a sinner myself, cannot judge them. It is only GOD's place to judge moral sins. If they know GOD's laws then they know GOD's punishment.

So if they continue in sin, then they are still sinners in the eyes of GOD and according to the very Christian bible they have chosen to embrace.

my.voice
5156
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my.voice 03/23/13 - 07:21 am
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I'm just looking for a church

I'm just looking for a church that will support my belief that:

Gravity has no control over me.
I don't get wet when I walk in the rain.
Fire will not burn me.
I can drink poison and it has no effect.
There is no right and wrong, it's just do as I please.

Let me know what time the services begin,

Thank you.

palmetto1008
9782
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palmetto1008 03/23/13 - 07:29 am
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my.voice, in this country,
Unpublished

my.voice, in this country, you can believe what you want, start your own church, and write your own book from which you can pull excerpts to support your position as the occasion arises. It would have as much validity as any other supernatural set of beliefs.

InChristLove
22485
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InChristLove 03/23/13 - 08:02 am
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Truth Matters "If thou

Truth Matters "If thou confess with thou mouth and believe with thou heart thou shall be saved"

You seemed to have left out part of the verse, Romans 10:9 "9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (NIV)

It's the part about believing in your heart that God raised His Son from the dead part that gets most people. They admit that they believe there is a God and He is called "Lord" but when it comes to what's in and controls the heart is a totally different matter.

In John 3:3 Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Also in John 5:24 He says "24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."

Not enough space to go into it but what might be helpful is studying the true meaning of the word "believe" and notice is says believeth on instead of believeth in. Truly there is a difference. As Christ said, many will call me Lord and He will answer, depart from me, I never knew you.......so Truth Matters, the man you speak about may profess his Christianity, but the fruit of his spirit tells a different story.

InChristLove
22485
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InChristLove 03/23/13 - 08:04 am
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Excellent comment carcraft!

Excellent comment carcraft! (7:13am)

InChristLove
22485
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InChristLove 03/23/13 - 08:10 am
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Jake, see you still avoided

Jake, see you still avoided answering the question but thanks for the congrats. I must confessed it was only by the Grace of God that I have managed to deter this 30 year habit.....hopefully it will never return.

carcraft
28418
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carcraft 03/23/13 - 08:35 am
4
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Obama voted to allow a baby

Obama voted to allow a baby born alive to be put aside to die I believe Jesus said "as you to unto the least of these you do unto me "
I also believe Jesus said "if you harm one of these little ones it would be better to have a millstone put around your neck and be cast in the sea ". Where does allowing a Doctor to stick a needle into the brain of a baby being born and sucking it's brain out fit with Jesus words?

allhans
24800
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allhans 03/23/13 - 09:42 am
2
2
Is it church or is it a

Is it church or is it a gathering in a church building?

Jane18
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Jane18 03/23/13 - 09:53 am
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Jake and "Choice"

We are very fortunate that we have so many choices of everything and anything(that was a God-given, HE did not make us to be robots or zombies), but, in the end, there are only 2 choices for eternity..........

BamaMan
2675
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BamaMan 03/25/13 - 11:41 am
1
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Church

Many make good comments, but where's scripture? I, nor God hates people, He is our Father. But He does hate sin, and the Bible is full of scripture warning of homosexuality. Today's term "gay" seems to want to play down the term, but makes it no less wrong. Not my words, it's all through the Bible. To pull just one verse, I Corinthians 6:9-11. Read it. We can't live by the verses we like, and not the ones we don't. You believe all of it, or none. I know lots of the Bible is hard to understand, that's why we should study it. Just this one passage is plain. What book do these people read from? They can't be reading the one I am.

curly123053
5343
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curly123053 03/23/13 - 11:42 am
3
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True Christians Support 100% of The Bible's Teachings.....

and the Bible states to be a Christian is to repent and step away from the unbiblical lifestyles of the world and follow God wholly! You cannot tear pages out of the Bible as inappropiate for your lifestyle or liking. A Christian church minister must be willing and able to stand up for 100% of what the Bible says about the family unit, as well as other aspects. 1st Cor 6:9 specifically states homosexuality is wrong. As Christians we must still love them as God commands us, but we are not to make our love seem as an endorsement of their chosen lifestyle. We love all sinners, but we hate the sin. And we pray for those stuck in the rut of a sinful life that goes against God's teachings in His Bible.

nocnoc
49121
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nocnoc 03/23/13 - 12:07 pm
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curly123053 - nailed

No pun intended.

To be a Christian mean to accept 100% of the bible teachings.

To be a NEW AGE Christian means to work out a agenda what makes you feel comfortable with what you are doing that does not fit into the Bible.

Jake
33966
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Jake 03/23/13 - 02:11 pm
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ICL

I guess I am not following why you are asking a question about children (in general, I think?) when the article has nothing to do with children. This is about adults and the choice of the place they like to worship. I don't see any correlation with this church and the admonishing or warning of children.

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