Coming together again for Church in the Park

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A special service that’s been enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike, Church In The Park will be held this weekend in Barclay Square.

Jim Pond, pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Punxsy, said this year’s theme is “Come Together” to share God’s love, word, and make disciples.

Pond said those thoughts will all be pulled together during Sunday’s service at 10:30 a.m. in Barclay Square.

The Punxsutawney Ministerium, a group of local pastors and lay people, has been holding weekly meetings to prepare for the weekend’s events, Pond said. Even though some churches do things differently than others, all of the churches seek to accomplish the same purpose: Helping people come to salvation.

Pond said the planning committee has actually had less time to plan the weekend’s activities since Greg Tibbs, the former pastor at the First Church of God in Punxsy, who was called to pastor a church in Marion, Ill., planned many of the activities for the weekend each year.

Festivities begin at 8:30 p.m. Friday with “Movie In The Park,” featuring the film “Rio.” Families are invited to an evening of fun and fellowship including free refreshments, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy and pop.

Everyone attending is asked to bring chairs or a blanket to view the movie that will begin around 8:45 p.m.

Saturday, there are two service projects scheduled: A ramp-building service project at the rear of the Salvation Army, coordinated through the First United Methodist Church and a clean-up of the Mahoning Shadow Trail, coordinated through the Punxsutawney Area Alliance Church.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, “Dance Your Shoes Off” will take place in Barclay Square, during which community members will participate in a dance routine. Pond said those who don’t dance are invited to bring a new pair of shoes to be donated to those who are less fortunate.

The speaker for this year’s service is Wayne Anderson, interim pastor of the First Church Of God in Punxsutawney. He was chosen because of his many years as a speaker at his own church, special events and camp meetings.
Anderson said his first impressions of Church in the Park are great, with many denominations coming together as one for a single service.

“I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s what Jesus Christ had in mind for His church,” he said. “In fact, He very clearly says, ‘The church should be one, and is one.’ I think when a group of churches come together like this, God is honored and people are served.”

Bill Young Jr., the new pastor for United Methodist churches in Hamilton, Frostburg and Valier, said the three churches have chosen to join as a charge to take part in Church in the Park.

“It’s our first time to join as one in an official capacity,” said Young, who started July 1 as the pastor of the Valier United Methodist Charge which encompasses all three churches. “I’m thrilled that we get to come in force as a charge, and I’m proud of our people.”

Young, who has served as the music and youth minister at First United Methodist, said what he’s doing now is different than what his duties entailed at the Punxsy church.

“I get to preach a little bit more and pastor people a little bit more, it’s a good thing,” Young said.

Al Kimmel, pastor of Cross Town Ministries (Grace and Woodland Avenue United Methodist Churches), said Church In The Park already feels like a long tradition, even though it has only been in existence for several years.

“This is exciting; there are some things that are happening which are different,” he said. “There are some things that we’ve let go of from the past. I just feel good about this year’s program and the way the plans have come together.”

Kimmel said he is in charge of a portion of Sunday’s worship service, and plans to pray the prayer that Jesus did in the garden before his crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospel of John.

The prayer was not for Jesus himself, but for His disciples and the ones who will come to believe through them, he said.

“What we’ve created for the worship service is that God is praying for Church In The Park,” Kimmel said.

Mary Lewis, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Punxsy, said the involvement of her congregation has continued to grow over the years.

Lewis said with Tibbs’ departure, a lay person came to her and said the ministerium can’t allow the Church In The Park tradition to die.

“Greg (Tibbs) was one of the leaders that first began the program, which meant we would have to pick up the slack,” Lewis said, adding that she’s excited about this year’s service than some of the others.

“I’m really excited that we’re having communion together,” she said. “That’s really the symbol of people coming together.”

Pond said this year’s offering will be given to Nothing But Nets, a global, grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, a leading killer of children in Africa. Bed nets work by creating a protective barrier against deadly malaria-carrying mosquitoes that bite at night.

Worship will be led by Mark Kephart, interim worship leader at First Church of God.

Lunch will follow Sunday’s service. To order a lunch ahead of time, call Peggy McQuown at First Church of God at 938-6670.