MOUNT VERNON — As congregants at Immaculate Conception Church gathered for Ash Wednesday services, they were met with shouts from members of a protestant group called Skagit County Street Pastors.
Throughout the morning, demonstrators Jacen Martin and Kellen Moore shouted questions at congregants entering the Catholic church, asking them to defend their faith and the beliefs of the church.
Moore said his primary issue with Catholic doctrine is the belief that there are multiple mediators between God and man, a belief he said isn’t founded in the Bible.
“It upsets us that beings are being deceived,” he said. “The only way for them to get to God is through Jesus.”
The Rev. Tom McMichael, pastor of the five Catholic churches in Skagit County, said what he saw Wednesday morning was nothing new.
“It’s not the first time they’ve been here,” he said. “Obviously they have problems with what Catholics believe and with Catholics themselves.”
McMichael said several of his congregants, including about 200 children coming to mass from the neighboring Immaculate Conception Regional School, were right to feel threatened by the men.
The men stood on both sides of the walkway leading to the church, he said, and while they weren’t blocking passage, they were close enough for McMichael to feel they were in the way.
The school ended up changing the route the children typically take to the church so they could avoid the men, he said. Police responded but did not ask Martin and Moore to leave.
“I understand free speech and the need to respect their rights,” McMichael said. “But there was a legitimate concern for the safety of our children.”
Martin said he and Moore helped form the street pastor group about four and a half years ago, and it now has about 10 people.
“There’s no better way to get to the heart of a community than as a street preacher,” he said.
What others may classify as shouting, Martin called a passionate presentation of his beliefs.
“It seems like yelling to some people, but we’re just proclaiming the Bible,” he said.
McMichael said he’s spoken with the men before, and they have no interest in having a real debate.
“They’re here to shout slogans, to put (people) down,” he said.