It started like any other Sunday.
But then Pastor Madison Shockley introduced a new prospective member of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. -- a registered sex offender whose identity has been concealed at the church's request.
The man told the stunned congregation that he'd been convicted twice, that he'd served his time, and that he now wanted to join a faith community as a way of reintegrating into society.
Today, the congregation will vote on a policy that would allow the convicted child molester to worship with them. While the church prides itself on its openness, some members wonder if this is going too far.
"It ripped us apart. It was devastating," Shockley said about the impact the upcoming vote has had on his small, tight-knit congregation. "We were looking a church split right in the eye."
But the pastor believes the debate is a necessary one if the church is going to keep up with the times.
"The reality is that sex offenders are among any population of people," he said. "We're coming to grips with the reality."
Parishioners like Melissa Peterson, a mother of two, are torn between their ideals of forgiveness and protecting their children.
"On the one hand, I feel very sorry for him," she said. "But on the other hand, I'm being asked to put the person that I am in charge of, and who is in my care and who is a vulnerable, innocent child, I'm kind of being asked to put that person at stake for these ideas."
Some parishioners who were themselves abused as children want to accept the sex offender.
"To have said no to this request, for me, would have been like giving the person that abused me in my childhood power over how I could act and how I could live out my beliefs," said church member April Bird.
If passed, the compromise policy the church is voting on today would accept sex offenders who agree, among other conditions, to be escorted at all times. Regardless of the outcome, Shockley thinks his church is better for addressing the issue.
"Wrestling around these questions, I think, has made us stronger and closer," he said.