Crowd gathers for Church in the Park

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The weather was stormy throughout the week in Punxsutawney, so much so that the canopy that covers the bandstand in Barclay Square was nearly destroyed in 60 mph winds.

Apparently, someone had other plans, as the canopy was put back in place thanks to the help of many community volunteers — including the Groundhog Festival Committee; Punxsy Lions Club; Smith Hauling, which brought in a crane; and volunteers from Church in the Park — so the program could continue.

Despite all of the obstacles, Church in the Park went off without a hitch Sunday morning, with a large turnout of people of all faiths.

Al Kimmel, pastor of Crosstown Ministries and one of the organizers of the event, said the weather was nearly perfect, with blue skies and sunshine for the sixth annual Christian unity service that featured the collaboration of over 22 churches in the Punxsy area.

This year's guest speaker was the Rev. Gregg Parris, pastor of Union Chapel United Methodist Church in Muncie, Ind., who based his message on "What's in Your Hand?" the Bible story of Exodus 3, of Moses and the burning bush.

Parris said Moses was surprised that God had appeared to him and spoke to him in the form of a burning bush.

Moses had a shepherds' staff in his hand when God spoke to him, Parris said, adding that the story illustrates that whatever one has in his or her hand, God can use it, even a shepherds' staff.

Parris said Moses eventually used his staff to part the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through it and and into the promised land and escape from the pursuing Egyptians.

Parris said this is his 31st year at the same church, which began in a cornfield and has grown into a large church in what has become a metropolitan area.

"For those who have lived their lives in hilly Pennsylvania, you don't realize that if you travel far enough west you'll eventually arrive in what is known as the "flatlands," Parris said, adding that the Muncie area has suffered from the loss of 10,000 jobs, with a population that dropped down to approximately 80,000.

"What if my wife, Beth, and I had just decided to throw in the towel and given up on our little church in the cornfield and moved onto another opportunity to serve a larger congregation?" he said. "God showed us that what we had in our hand was good enough for him to use us to grow this tiny church."

Parris asked those in attendance in Barclay Square to see how God wants to use what is in their hands, just like Moses with his shepherd’s staff to part the Red Sea.

Communion was also served at the large gathering in the park, and following the service, the annual luncheon in the park took place under bright blue skies.

The offering at the event was collected for the Salvation Army of Punxsutawney.