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Lion, tiger and bear help bring Palm Sunday to life
Pastor Don Allen greets a tiger during a special Palm Sunday service at The Church @ War Hill Sunday. The tiger, along with a lion and a grizzly bear were used to illustrate the pastor’s sermon. - photo by Tom Reed

Children who attended the services at The Church @ War Hill in Dawsonville Sunday were on the edge of their pews as Senior Pastor Don Allen told the story of David and Goliath using a live lion, tiger and bear.

Allen gave a sermon entitled "Love, Danger and Rescue" on Palm Sunday with the help of Simba, a 1-year-old lion, Bella, a 4-month-old tiger, and Mojo, a 1-year-old grizzly bear.

In the past eight years, Allen has incorporated live animals into four Palm Sunday sermons at the church on Dawsonville Highway. He said more than 800 people attended the three worship services at The Church @ War Hill on Sunday.

"The animals allow me to bring the story to life and capture the kids’ attention," Allen said. "They’ve heard the stories of the gospel, but the animals help keep their attention so they hear it in a fresh and different way."

In addition to the large beasts that accompanied Allen in the pulpit, a live lemur, lamb and cockatoo played roles in the sermon.

Except for the lamb, Allen said all the animals in the service were transported from Chestatee Wildlife Preserve.

"It was awesome," said Angelica Cuevas, a 13-year-old member of The Church @ War Hill. "I’ve never seen animals like that up close. In the service, I learned that Jesus rescued us like they rescued the tiger cub."

Kim Hunter, a volunteer with the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, said the animals are temporarily caged for the church service, but enjoy large homes at the wildlife preserve.

"The cages are just for transport and display," she said.

"It’s rare for us to go to churches here, but people like animals. And it probably brings people in who normally wouldn’t come to hear the message," Hunter said.