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Church's banner snatched

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps someone objected to the language. Or wanted a totally cool decoration. More likely, thinks the Rev. David McLaurin, the mischief was perpetuated by a person or persons who objected to his church's message.

Heaven's Gates & Hell's Flames, proclaimed the banner in front of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, 4901 Fifth Ave. N. It was not an announcement of a sermon but of what has been described in a church bulletin as "a high-impact, compelling drama destined to make people aware of the urgent necessity to consider their eternal destiny."

The banner disappeared in the dead of night. Left behind were the two posts that had been its anchor.

McLaurin, pastor of the 1,100-member church for about a year and a half, is upset. The banner's loss came just days before the inaugural performance of Heaven's Gates & Hell's Flames.

"It is a critical time for us," he said Tuesday, the day the sign was discovered missing.

"We are really wanting to communicate to the community God's love. Since Sept. 11 and the terrorist attack, people are more aware of how fragile life is. I think people are asking questions about life and death and is there life after death, and is there really a heaven and is there really a hell, and how can we get to heaven?"

The custom-made vinyl banner, white, with black and red lettering, flew in front of the church sanctuary. Information about the drama had been displayed on both sides.

"It (the banner) cost $350 and was made so that the dates could be changed for future performances," McLaurin said.

The pastor can only wonder why the sign was removed, though there might be a clue.

"My secretary reported to me that someone had called expressing their objection to the banner being up with the word "hell,' " he said. "I know some people don't prefer reality. That is why we are trying to communicate the reality of God's love . . . Life is real. Death is real. Heaven is real and hell is real." This was no prank, he said. "I think it's an objection to the message."

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