Police respond to complaints, but small witnessing group makes little trouble

Friday night diners at Blue Sky Kitchen have been greeted with a different kind of street performance for a couple of weeks. They’ve been faced with parishioners from a local Christian organization trying to heat their food with fire and brimstone.

“They’re a little aggressive in the way they go about proselytizing,” said Matt Flynn, co-owner of the restaurant at the corner of 10th and Broad streets.

And while some individuals have pointed fingers at Antioch Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Kenneth B. Martin denies his church is involved.

“No, that’s not us,” he said simply. “If it is, I’m not aware of it.”

Martin isn’t likely to hide it if it was his church. His leads an active group of parishioners who organized a rally at the Municipal Building on Tuesday, protesting derogatory language used in hip-hop music.

“Look around your community and your city and see how family values, how crime, all of its related to how we respect one another and we’re disrespecting our sisters and our daughters and our wives and our mothers,” Martin said. “We’re hoping to get the attention of the music corporate world.”

Flynn said that only four tables sit outside his restaurant, so the majority of Blue Sky Kitchen diners were not affected. But there have been enough complaints from individuals to prompt the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department to act.

“They had a megaphone that day and the police actually came and made them get rid of the megaphone,” Flynn said. “I’m all for their right to get together and do their thing but I think the way they approach it is a little overly aggressive.”

No other eateries are open at the time the group witnesses from the median in the middle of Broad Street. New Moon Cafe owner Chris Allewelt said that she hadn’t heard anything about it. Her restaurant closes at 6 p.m. except on First Fridays, and the group did not reappear during the monthly street fest.

“No, this First Friday was fantastic,” said Virginia Colflesh, community programs director and First Friday coordinator for the Greater Augusta Arts Council. Despite the large crowds, they didn’t experience any major problems.

Religious groups are welcome to participate in First Friday with a vendor’s pass.

“I do have churches and organizations that come down and do the tables and they like it. They have a really good time,” Colflesh said. Non-profits and religious entities are not charged for their vendor pass.

And yet the organizers have occasionally run into groups who utilize the large numbers of people on the street to reach out to people for religious purposes.

“Then they’re asked to stop what they’re doing,” she said. Organizers explain the policies and procedures, Colflesh said, and invite the group to observe the rules and join in the next month. She couldn’t remember a situation in which one of the groups had taken the council up on the invitation.

“They like to kind of have free rein,” she said.

First Friday participants are asked to abide by certain guidelines, including staying with their table and refraining from asking for donations. “You can set up your booth, you can hand out information. You can’t really solicit money from people but you can have [a donation receptacle] on the table.”

As to whether you can stand in the middle of the street on a non-First Friday shouting to diners that the end is near and that the price of sin is eternity in hell, that’s a question that will remain unresolved.

At least until the mysterious street preachers are identified.

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