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Wheaton Park event celebrates freedom to worship

June 27, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

The sound of vibrant music, the smell of good food and a feeling of fellowship pulled people out of their homes Saturday and into Hagerstown's Wheaton Park for a special afternoon.

Freedom in the Park was the brainchild of a number of area churches who call themselves the Christian community, said Doug Stone, one of the organizers.

"We wanted to show people that there is a better way" than the fear and suspicion that often characterizes inner-city neighborhoods, Stone said.

By 1 p.m., dozens of people had braved the heat to join in the festivities designed "to lift up Jesus," the organizers said.

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There were hot dogs, plenty of cool drinks and lots of man-made shade, all free to those who attended.

Pam Mitchell came all the way from Westminster, Md., where she works at Victory House, a halfway house within the New Life for Girls organization.

"This is my way of paying God back for helping me," said Mitchell who said she was rescued from a destructive lifestyle by the Westminster-based organization and now works to do the same for others.

Pastor Robbie Ridenour of Faith Chapel in Hagerstown said the freedom to worship together is one of our greatest gifts.

"That's what this day is all about," Ridenour said.

Tito Matos of New Life for Girls revved up the crowd from his vantage point on a makeshift stage.

"Matos brought his group here from Westminster and we added the food giveaway, some fun for the kids and lots of water and cool drinks," Stone said.

Many in the crowd came in spontaneously, while others had gotten the word through their churches, posters and a vigorous door-to-door campaign in recent weeks.

"We just want people to know we love them," said Pastor Joe Quesenberry of the Zion Assembly of God in Maugansville.

Gilbert Baez found the secret to keeping cool. "I beat the heat with watermelon," Baez said with a smile as he enjoyed the music and the Freedom in the Park.

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