Two Vienna Churches: Stadtlicht and New City Wien

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Having grown up in a fairly traditional Roman Catholic family, by the time I reached my mid-teens I was no longer really interested in God and church. Then I met a group of young people to whom God seemed to be a living reality, and after spending some time with them I decided to follow Jesus myself.

After a few very formative months in England I came back to Vienna during the summer of 1972 and found my way to an evangelical church in the process of formation. This church later became known as the Tulpengasse or TUGA church, and was the subject of a book by Canadian Mennonite author Margaret Epp. Some of the people I got to know there are still more or less close friends today, such as Johannes Fichtenbauer, who today is a Roman Catholic deacon; others have already passed away, such as the church’s founding pastor and his wife, Canadian Mennonite Brethren missionaries Abe and Irene Neufeld; many others I have lost touch with after moving on, for a variety of reasons, to other churches both in Austria and abroad.

Today, the TUGA church is part of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Austria, and thus also part of the state-recognized Free Churches in Austria.

A few weeks ago the TUGA church moved from their longtime facilty in Tulpengasse in Vienna’s 8th district, to the novum venue in Wiedner Hauptstrasse 146, in Vienna’s 5th district, known as Margareten. Consequently they changed their name to Stadtlicht – Freikirche Margareten, i.e. Light For The City – Free Church Margareten.

The Stadtlicht church shares its space with the bi-lingual reformed New City Wien church, which also recently moved to the novum location from their old premises on the other side of Wiedner Hauptstraße, a few hundred meters towards the city center. My connection to New City Wien is the fact that my son Stephen and his wife are pretty intensively involved in this church, and that for this reason I have frequently attended their Sunday morning service in the past.

novum Wiedner Hauptstraße is a part of novum locations, a company started and owned by Christians which owns and operates multiple dual-use facilities across Austria: these are typically used by evangelical churches on the weekend, and rented out as conference and seminar facilities during the week. This business model is not without problems, and the co-existence of the two types of users  is not always friction-free, but it has made available affordable meeting spaces to evangelical churches who would otherwise have a hard time affording their own space.

Stadtlicht have their Sunday service in the morning, and New City Wien have theirs in the afternoon. Because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid pandemic both churches are live streaming their services on YouTube, permitting me to follow both services despite my health-induced mobility challenges.

Here are the links to their respective YouTube channels, where the livestreams can be found each Sunday, as well with videos of past sermons:

My prayer and wish for these two churches is that together they can be an even brighter light and can even more effectively seek the welfare of the city whom their names reference (Jeremiah 29:7).

There are two things in this story which are not without pain to me:

On the one hand the fact that some of those I got to know and respect in the TUGA church (and of course also in various other churches since then) have somehow and for a variety of reasons drifted  away from biblical Christianity, towards some other ideology or philosophy. While I do not feel called or qualified to speculate on the eternal fate of other people (I am much to busy to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling — Philippians 2:12),  when I hear about someone’s passing, and the report is cloaked in the unbiblical language of New Age or other eastern esoteric religion, then, while I commit this person to the boundless love, mercy and grace of God, I cannot help but have some slight doubt as to their fate.

And on the other hand there is the sad fact that it was apparently not possible to preserve the Tulpengasse venue as a space for Christian ministry, and so an important piece of Vienna’s evangelical history is lost forever.

 

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Twelve Good Rules

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These “Twelve Rules for Promoting Harmony among Church Members” are taken from a “Manual for the Members of the Second Presbyterian Church” of Charleston, SC, from 1838. They previously appeared in a similar manual for a Presbyterian church in Petersburg, VA, in 1833. They are variously credited to Thomas Smyth (b. 1878, d.1873), pastor of the Charleston church, and William Plumer (b. 1802, d.1880), pastor of the Petersburg church. The facsimile is taken from the “Complete Works” of Thomas Smyth.

Presbyterian churches trace their origins, via Scotland, to the Swiss Reformers, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, and are thus part of the Reformed tradition of Protestant churches; as is true of most Protestant traditions there are now both more conservative and more liberal Presbyterian denominations.

These “Twelve Rules” are, of course, not specifically Presbyterian, but would contribute to peace and harmony in all churches, parishes, and communities, regardless of denomination.

Twelve Rules for Promoting Harmony
among Church Members

    1. To remember that we are all subject to failings and infirmities, of one kind or another.” — Matt 7:1-5; Rom 2:21-23.
    2. To bear with and not magnify each other’s infirmities.” — Gal 6:1.
    3. To pray one for another in our social meetings, and particularly in private.” — James 5:16.
    4. To avoid going from house to house, for the purpose of hearing news, and interfering with other people’s business.” — Lev 19:16.
    5. Always to turn a deaf ear to any slanderous report, and to allow no charge to be brought against any person until well founded and proved.” — Prov 25:23.
    6. If a member be in fault, to tell him of it in private, before it is mentioned to others.” — Matt 18:15.
    7. To watch against shyness of each other, and put the best construction on any action that has the appearance of opposition or resentment.” — Prov 10:12.
    8. To observe the just rule of Solomon, that is, to leave off contention before it be meddled with.” — Prov 17:14.
    9. If a member has offended, to consider how glorious, how God-like it is to forgive, and how unlike a Christian it is to revenge.” — Eph 4:2.
    10. To remember that it is always a grand artifice of the Devil, to promote distance and animosity among members of Churches, and we should, therefore, watch against everything that furthers his the Devil’s end.” — James 3:16.
    11. To consider how much more good we can do in the world at large, and in the Church in particular when we are all united in love, than we could do when acting alone, and indulging a contrary spirit.” — John 13:35.
    12. Lastly, to consider the express injunction of Scripture, and the beautiful example of Christ, as to these important things.” — Eph 4:32; 1 Pet 2:21; John 13:5,35.

 

The facsimile page is taken from a Facebook post by Log College Press but should be in the public domain because of its age.

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Alyssa and her family need our help

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Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

Don & Nancy Prokop came to Austria as Vineyard missionaries, and together with Dave & Lisa Boyd the planted and nurtured the Vienna Vinyard. Their children Amy, Alyssa, and Matthew grew up near Vienna and attended Vienna Christian School (now International Christian School of Vienna). In recent years Don Prokop is part of the Mercy House of Prayer in Vienna, as well as part of the intercession team for the Austrian Roundtable, a grassroots Christian reconciliation initiative.

Their three children are married, Amy in California, Alyssa in Germany, and Matthew here in Austria.

In April of 2020 Alyssa’s husband David Kogler found her unresponsive in her bed. She was rushed to the hospital, and the initial diagnosis was an unspecified infection which had gone septic and caused swelling on the brain (cerebral edema). Alyssa almost died, and a short time later doctors diagnosed a rare condition: Addison’s Disease or hypocortisolism.

All of this has left Alyssa in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, talk, care for herself or feed herself. At 46, the once vibrant caring wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend to many, a talented singer, has been silenced.

Because of Covid restrictions, initially visits were severely restricted; in fact, Alyssa’s children saw their mother for the first time in a full year in April 2021.

Since last summer Alyssa has been in a nursing home; she needs round the clock care and intensive therapies to hopefully regain some of her abilities. All this is expensive; in God’s providence much of it is covered by insurance and government aid. Nevertheless, Alyssa’s husband David faces a monthly shortfall of $1800 (€1500).

This is why Alyssa’s sister Amy has started a GoFundMe campaign to financially support Alyssa and her family.

In the spirit of “bearing one another’s burdens” I ask all my readers to consider participating, according to their means and abilities.

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Lived Experience Trumps Open Debate – Should It?

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Let’s get this out of the way first: I am so sorry for the Trump reference in the title of this post—it does not refer to the former POTUS but is a quote from one of the articles I refer to in this post.

In an opinion column in today’s Daily Telegraph (unfortunately behind a pay wall for many) spiked columnist Ella Whelan comments on The Twitter mauling of Joe Rogan in the wake of the US comedian and podcast host suggesting that «the trajectory of “woke” culture is such that eventually “straight, white men won’t be able to talk”».

Her article illustrates and confirms something American theologian Voddie Baucham said in a recent interview (text summaryvideo) with Church Leadership Magazine and in his book, Fault Lines.

Here is the section from Ella Whelan’s column in the Telegraph:

According to some Black Lives Matter activists, white people need to “sit down” and stop talking about race. Feminists have long argued that men need to “lean out” or “shut up” and listen to women when it comes to issues relating to women. Transgender activists claim that any non-trans person deviating from the repetition of their “trans women are women” mantra must be a bigot, and therefore should be silenced. Teenage climate activists tell us we should be quiet and “listen to the science” rather than debating the best way to tackle environmental challenges.

In a recent online debate on intimacy during lockdown, I was told I couldn’t possibly comment on the benefits of dating apps for sexual exploration because I am married. In almost all aspects of contemporary politics, lived experience has trumped open debate, meaning that unless you fit into whichever identity or experience is being discussed, your views are deemed less valid.

In the interview in Church Leadership Magazine, Dr. Baucham discusses Critical Race Theory (CRT) which underpins the current social justice movement. He says it isn’t just a pseudo-religion but is rather its own religious movement. It has all the trappings of religion, a point which even atheists have made. The movement has its own cosmology, its own saints, its own liturgy, and its own law.

And here is the section where it meshes perfectly with what Ella Whelan says in her column:

What we have in our culture is not an objective truth, but we have a cultural hegemony that is designed for the purpose of oppression. Because of this we have to look at other ways of knowing. This is where narrative becomes very important, story telling becomes important, it’s one of the central tenets of Critical Race Theory. So in Critical Race Theory, if you want to know the truth when it comes to race and racism, you have to elevate black voices, you have to listen to the voice of the marginalized. And this is what people are talking about in church today, right: We have to listen to black voices, we have to elevate the voice of the marginalized. Well, in Critical Race Theory we do this because that’s the way you know truth—not through knowing God, not through knowing God’s Words, but through listening to the voices and the experiences of  the people who we determine to be marginalized.

So, even when we talk about having the conversation—and people will say, “You’re just trying to shut down The Conversation About Racism!”—that’s rooted in principles of Critical Race Theory, that’s saying that storytelling is the way we find knowledge and not through pursuing objective truth.

Since narrative, story telling, are the ways to find true knowledge, when folks tell their story they must be believed, their story must be taken at face value, however much it flies in the face of your own experience, of objective—even scientific—knowledge, or revealed truth.

But because it is only the narrative and the stories of the oppressed and marginalized, whether it be people of color, women, or those who identify with “alternative sexualities”, only their stories are worth listening to, and others, especially privileged white males, need to shut up rather than contribute their own experiences or opinions.

And finally, even those who belong to the oppressed and marginalized groups are only welcome to tell their stories and experiences if they fit into the grans narrative of Critical Race Theory. A black man, like Dr. Baucham, who tells a different story is dismissed as having “internalized racism.”

This edict, that all who are not fully supportive of the narratives and stories considered authentic voices of the oppressed need to be silenced, is at the root of what has come to be called the “cancel culture”, with the “de-platforming” of speakers who represent contrary views.

One of my own observations, and which all this bears out, is that it is typically those who call for tolerance and even affirmation of their own views and positions end up most intolerant of other views and positions. Even Christians are guilty of this: demanding freedom of religion for Christians in places like Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, etc., while at the same time discriminating against followers of visibly foreign religions in our own countries. It seems to be part of our sinful human nature.

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A Challenge To All Evangelical Churches

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The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, predominantly low church and Evangelical, has just elected a new archbishop after the retirement of Glenn Davies in March of this year. The new archbishop is Kanishka Raffel, dean of St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, born in London to Sri Lankan parents and a convert from Buddhism.

In an article for the Religion & Ethics Portal of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Michael P. Jensen, Rector at St. Mark’s in Darling Point, examines the challenges facing the Sydney Diocese and Archbishop-elect Raffel, and while some aspects of the article are specific to SydneyAnglicans, much of it is challenging food for though for Evangelical churches everywhere.

A speaker at the election synod compared Sydney Anglicans with the Ever Given, the oil tanker stuck in the Suez canal recently. The author takes up this image and describes four temptations facing an organization stuck in this way.  All four seem applicable to almost any Evangelical church in the societal and cultural climate we find ourselves in, across most of the “Western” world, but the first one especially resonated with me:

The temptation to appoint a “crash-through” leader.

The author writes,

Anxious people want superhero leaders who will fix everything. They dream of the alpha individual who just crashes through the barriers to change and growth, firing and hiring at will. We want the guy who will build the wall and make us great again. (Sound familiar?) The church is no different. We yearn for a radical change agent. And yet, the problem with the crash-through leader is … well, the crash. They will likely prove polarising and destructive.

To me, the problem with this temptation is that it ignores the truth that the primary change agent in the church, more radical than any human leader, is the Holy Spirit.

Another quote from the article which struck me is this, in the author’s outline of the tasks facing the new archbishop:

But there must also be a courageous and prophetic engagement with post-Christian culture. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said that sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The Bible gives us eyes to see what is really in the newspaper. But it is also the case that news may help us to see better what is in the Bible. The mistake that many American evangelicals have made is to imagine that political and cultural means are the way to pursue or to defend the kingdom of God — mostly in alignment with the political right. That is a fool’s errand. It leads to an idolatry of political power, as was seen the Trump’s presidency. It shows no faith in the ultimate Lordship of Jesus, who is the church’s only Lord.

But neither should the church simply follow the spirit of the age. Its calling is not to provide a chaplaincy to contemporary narcissism. It finds laughable talk of “getting with the times” or “history being on our side”. It does not pursue relevance, as if that were anything worthwhile. It outlasted Rome: it will surely outlast Atlassian.

I have highlighted the sentence which made this stand out to me, and I hasten to add that this is not a uniquely American problem, although American Evangelical support for President Trump made it very visible. This problem rears its head every time Christians look to politics to enforce Christian morality on a secular society, and especially when they prioritize one point of Christian morality over everything else. There is, for example, a tendency to make the question of abortion or the whole gender and alternative sexualities question a priority over the treatment of refugees and immigrants, something I have observed both in the American situation during the past few years and in my own country of Austria.

I like the conclusion that Dr. Jensen comes to after talking about the four temptations:

The answer must surely be that the church of Jesus Christ needs to be more authentically what it actually is. Christians in Sydney — be they Anglican or not — need to be more Christian. The calling of the church of Jesus Christ is to be more like him. It is called upon to worship God, and to live life together that reflects his character, whatever the circumstances.

And this, of course, applies to Christians, of every stripe, not just in Sydney or Australia, but everywhere: here in Austria, in England, in America, and wherever the Church is found.

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Is Austria’s Solidarity With Israel Unconstitutional?

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When two days ago (Friday, 15th May 2021) the Austrian government expressed solidarity with Israel by flying the Israeli flag on the Chancellery and Foreign Ministry buildings, several particularly intelligent individuals (i.e. FPÖ chair Hofer as well as Facebook commenters) have opined that this expression of solidarity contravenes the consitutionally mandated perpetual neutrality of Austria.
 
 
But Austria’s neutrality has always been understood in military terms, not in terms of ideology or world view: The Austrian constitution itself just mentions neutrality but doesn’t define it, while the Neutrality Act of 1955 (which is considered part of the constitution) clearly defines it in military terms—no membership in alliances, no foreign military bases in Austria (see the attached screenshot).
 
During the talks which produced the Austrian State Treaty which in turn terminated Austria’s occupation by the WWII Allies, Austria’s negotiators in Moscow used the expression neutrality on the Swiss pattern to make clear that this was not a moral or ideological neutrality—hence Austria, while not a NATO member, was nevertheless always a western country, and today cannot be morally neutral vis-á-vis terrorist organizations such as Hamas.
 
It is this same Hamas which for a number of days has relentlessly been firing rockets at the Israeli civilian population; and they do this using bases and launchpads located in the midst of civilian residential areas, often next to hospitals and school—so that the inevitable and justified Israeli counter strikes will produce a high civilian death toll, including children, which can then be exploited for propaganda purposes.
 
In the face of this situation the demonstration of solidarity by the flying of the Israeli flag is clearly not unconstitutional or in contravention of Austria’s perpetual neutrality; rather, this solidarity is entirely appropriate especially given Austria’s history.  We should not forget that when Austria’s anthem waxes poetic about being “home to great sons” this includes the likes of Adolf Hitler and not a few of his henchmen—great, of course, in terms of their tragic impact on world history, not in the sense of moral greatness.
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Empowering the Culturally Conservative Majority?

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Allister Heath writes in The Daily Telegraph (May 13, 2021),

«What is wrong with France, a wonderful country relentlessly let down by its politicians? There is an unmistakable whiff of panic in the Parisian air, a growing sense among sections of the ruling class that France, riven by culture wars, its economy and society in never-ending decline, its housing estates in the banlieues permanently on the brink, is nearing a tipping point.

For all the sneers, Boris Johnson’s latest electoral triumph did not go unnoticed. What, the more far-sighted intellos ask themselves, will be France’s equivalent of Brexit, if, or rather when, it finally comes? Will it be another 1961 (a failed putsch), 1968 (hard-Left student insurrection), 1981 (communists in government), 1789 (proper revolution) or, hopefully, something milder, more constructive? 

The gilets jaunes two years ago were a false alarm, but how will the rage of la France profonde manifest itself next time? Emmanuel Macron has admitted that “Leave” would win a vote on Frexit, though nobody will want to risk one. It’s a great shame: France, the country in which I grew up, needs a cathartic reset like Brexit, a political earthquake that is neither hard-Left nor hard-Right but which finally empowers the culturally conservative majority.»

Here are my non-expert thoughts on this:

The problem is that, increasingly, even the “moderate left” view themselves as the elite, superior to cultural conservatives whom they view as “hard-Right”. Therefore they will not easily countenance anything that empowers these “deplorables“, to use Hillary Clinton‘s deplorable diction. This is true not just in France but all over the West.

It will be interesting to see how things continue in the UK. As much as I regret Brexit, it seems to have brought about or at least started just such a “reset”. But while these larger countries (Britain, France, even Germany) might go through a Brexit or Frexit or Gexit without too much damage to their economies, for all the EU’s shortcomings leaving it, or its complete break-up, would have disastrous consequences for smaller countries and even Italy or Spain. Among other things it would mean the total domination of our economies by the US and China, without any counterbalance.

__________
  1. for example when they insist on the reality and immutability of biological sex, marriage only between a man and a woman, or the protection of unborn life[]
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Prince William propagates “White Saviour” — Really?

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In a letter to the editor published in profil 18/2021 biologist and elephant researcher Dr Hannah Mumby from the University of Hong Kong writes,

“In 2018 Prince William travelled to Tanzania, Kenia, and Namibia to learn about conservation. At a conferenc he presented a video about his trip to Tanzania. Many NGOs criticized that the video was promoting a  “white saviour” image, because only one African, a student, spoke in front of the camera while the remaining interviewees were international conservationists.”

I assume that the video which Prince William presented reflected his trip to Tanzania: what he experienced, who he talked to, etc. It should not be too surprising to anyone that a politically prominent figure like the Prince primarily encounters carefully selected people on a trip like this; people who are judged by the security teams (both his own and those of the host country) to be harmless and unlikely to be a danger. That this selection criterion results primarily in prominent experts and activists, and that these, for any number of reasons tend to be mostly white Americans and Europeans, does not surprise me either.

I am also not surprised (because this phenomon is not new) but rather irritated that activists and propagandists (and I use these terms without any negative connotation) have the tendency to consider everything someone says propaganda, or to dig through it for things that could be interpreted as propaganda.

Most of us normal folks (and I assume that this applies to Prince William as well) are not constantly in propaganda mode when we comment on something; much of the time we simply report, without value judgments, on what we have experienced; we are not at all concerned with how others could interpret what we say as propaganda or promotion of this or that.

And so I also assume that Prince William travelled to Africa to express his interest in conservation and to support various conservation initiatives; that he presented his video for these same reason, without worrying overmuch about who he had talked to or interviewed. I am pretty sure that he was not seeking to make some political statement about the ethnic or national identity of the conservationists he spoke to. If “many NGOs” wish to interpret his video that way, then it is because they assume that everyone else thinks in the same categories and patterns as they themselves — and that’s pretty naïve and stupid.

 

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Persecution for Christ’s Sake?

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Increasingly there are reports of Christians getting into trouble with police for publicly preaching against homosexuality and gay marriage, most recently this report on the site churchleaders.com. The verdict of “Incitement” against Pastor Olaf Latzel in Bremen is another example.

Here are my thoughts on this:

Of course Christians, like everyone else, should have the right to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of opinion and speech, and the fact that this right is increasingly eroded by labelling some opinions “hate speech” is a problem and politically concerning.

BUT: From a spiritual perspective our task as Christians and as the church is NOT to preach Christian morality to an unbelieving world, but to preach Jesus Christ as Lord and only Saviour.

When people come to Jesus and are born again then the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth, and He cannot be arrested by police.

Of course, as Christians we will be increasingly discriminated against when we express our convictions on various topics, or when we refuse to participate in certain activities (i.e. abortions, same-sex weddings), and this is a deplorable development in countries that boast of their liberal society because it is the very people who most vocally demand tolerance for their views who are most intolerant of others.

But I warn against claiming persecution for our faith, even obliquely, as long as we are permitted to preach Jesus as Lord, as the crucified and risen Christ and Saviour.

The problem is this: if we call the discrimination which we experience on certain subjects here in Europe and other western countries, “persecution for Christ’s sake,” when Christians in countries like China, North Korea, or India experience violent oppression and persecution including imprisonment and even death, or while Christian refugees in refugee camps here in Europe experience violent persecution from Muslim fellow refugees, we are effectively risk minimizing the suffering of these persecuted Christians as we focus on our own discomfort. If we complain of being persecuted right now, how will we cope if we ever are faced with real persecution?

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Austria Prays Together: Pentecost Novena 2021

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During the nine days (hence novena1) from May 14 (Ascension Day) through May 22 (the Saturday before Pentecost/Whitsun) Christians of all different denominations are invited to unite in prayer for the country of Austria. On Wednesday, May 13, a video will be release introducing the novena.

In the evening of May 24 (Pentecost Monday) there will be a live-streamed prayer service with leaders of the major faith traditions in Austria (Roman Catholic, Lutheran/Reformed, Free Churches, Eastern Orthodox).

On each of the nine days a video will be released focusing on one of Austria’s nine provinces, and there is a 24/7 prayer calendar where both groups (churches, parishes, etc) and individuals can sign up to pray during specific one-hour slots.

More information can be found at the website “Österreich Betet Gemeinsam” as well as on social media (Facebook, Instagram).

  1. A novena is a nine day period of prayer. The word comes from the Latin for nine and is more familiar to Christians in liturgical churches than to those from the free churches.
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