Churchgoers were warned yesterday to reject a secretive group operating in their midst.
The warning came after the excommunication of 15 elders of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Camberwell Victoria over their links to the Fellowship, a sect accused of wielding strong control over its followers.
A statement read to the Trinity congregation by Presbytery of Melbourne East clerk Kevin Childs before yesterday morning's service said the elders had been banished for their conduct as Fellowship members and their failure to address the situation.
The statement said the presbytery of Melbourne East - which oversees the running of member churches - had no choice but to expel the 15 from the elders' council and the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
And it urged others to stay away from the group. "Presbytery counsels all members of the church of Camberwell that, for their own welfare, they should dissociate themselves from the group known as the Fellowship," the statement read.
"The Presbyterian Church of Victoria has set up procedures to advise and help those who feel they have been aggrieved and hurt by the practices of the Fellowship."
Trinity minister Philip Mercer, who is not a Fellowship member, told his congregation the news would be "grievous and distressing" to many.
He reminded them they were in a house of prayer and said appeals would be lodged against the ex-communication.
"Please understand that what you are about to hear is not the final word on the matter in so far as these decisions are subject to appeal," he said.
But there was little reaction from the more than 200 worshippers who continued their usual service after the announcement.
Outside the Riversdale Rd church, Mr Childs said the action against the Fellowship related to the way the group treated members of a family and cared for the congregation.
Former Trinity minister Robert Humphreys first complained to the presbytery about the Fellowship in 1989, and two books have been written about the group.
One of the sacked elders, who refused to be named, said he would continue to attend church and would appeal against the decision.
He said there was lots of misinformation about the Fellowship but refused to explain the group's function.
Mr Mercer said the church community was hurt and determined to have the dismissal overturned