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    Braving cooler temperatures and threatening skies, members of Manna Church turned out en masse to support their pastor, the Rev. Michael Fletcher, at a recent Fayetteville City Council meeting. The pastor was on hand to address concerns he has about a policy by The Dogwood Festival that limits participation by churches.
    The controversy surrounding The Dogwood Festival and its policy has been swirling in the community for several weeks. Fletcher maintains that festival organizers told him and others on his staff that the policy does not allow participation by churches in the festival at all. Festival staffers differ, noting that churches can participate as vendors or as sponsors of sanctioned events. They cannot, however, participate in the festival strictly to dispense information. The festival has two types of booths: those for vendors and informational type booths. Vendors pay $750, while informational participants pay $55.
    Fletcher, the senior pastor at the church, said that the price of the booths was not a point of contention. He noted that his church has participated in a number of festivals as vendors, and has paid the price. He told the council he has the documentation in the form of registration and canceled checks to prove it.
    “I know you are aware of the controversy surrounding The Dogwood Festival,” said Fletcher. “Our intent is never to cause hurt. I do not support any type of boycott. I think everyone should go.”
    {mosimage} He added that he had encouraged his church members to participate and attend in festival activities.
He explained that the council and the community have received a significant amount of misinformation. Fletcher said that Carrie King, the festival director, told him that the board had decided not to let churches participate in any way.
    “This policy is unconstitutional,” said Fletcher. “This is America. It could be said that our community is the cradle of freedom. How can we tolerate such an unconstitutional stance?”
    He added that if other church groups in the past have offended festival goers, it is those groups that should not be allowed to participate. “Wisdom dictates that the offending party should not be allowed to participate,” he said. “Some Christians are embarrassing and weird. They give the rest of us a bad name. Whoever called and told Ms. King she is going to hell should be put in a box and be shipped far away.”
He called on the council to use its influence to have the board consider a change in its policy. Fletcher said his church will not try to participate in this year’s festival in any form, and asked that the community not do anything to mar the enjoyment of the festival.
    “I love The Dogwood festival,” he said. “It is a great community event, and I urge people to support it.”
He hopes to be able to attend a meeting of The Dogwood Festival board in May, when it will take up the issue.
    “It is our hope that they will reconsider this policy,” he said.
    The council took no action on his request, and The Dogwood Festival board has declined further comment until after its May meeting.

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