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Religious tone sparks debate about festival

September 14, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Tuesday balked at a merchants group's proposed festival, saying the event has a religious slant and the city shouldn't sponsor it.

He objected to having "inspirational" music, which is "about nothing but Jesus Christ," he said.

He also criticized the group's "hope to bring back revival in the city," which he said summons an age when two current council members would have been forbidden from holding public office. Metzner, who is Jewish, was referring to himself and Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean, who is black.

The Harvest Festival itinerary for Oct. 22 includes a hayride, pumpkin painting, agricultural vendors, decorated store windows, and arts and crafts.

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It also includes a trolley tour of historic churches, a Faith Chapel youth group and music ranging from bluegrass to "inspirational contemporary."

"It wasn't intended to have a religious theme," Deborah Everhart, the city's economic development coordinator, said after the meeting.

Everhart, who is working with the merchants, said the musical groups were donating their time. Without free "inspirational" music, the merchants might need to ask the city for money to hire other acts, she said.

The merchants' group, known as Destination Hagerstown, asked for coverage under the city's insurance and for $800 from the city's economic development budget for the hayrides and church tours.

Metzner said the event is "purely religious," but stressed that he didn't mind it, as long as it doesn't get city money or sponsorship.

One Destination Hagerstown merchant, Wesley Weese of Beautiful Sky Gifts on North Potomac Street, told the council that his wife, Maria, thought up an event that would showcase local churches.

But she knew something more was needed, so it became a fall festival for a "Christian-type audience," he said.

After Metzner criticized the music, Weese asked if there could be at least one Christian group.

"I would object," Metzner said.

Mayor Richard F. Trump tried to refocus the discussion on merchants' efforts to help the downtown, "for giving people a reason to come down and celebrate Hagerstown."

"As long as it's based on a harvest festival and not a religious festival," Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said.

Parson-McBean asked what music the city would allow at an event it sponsors. She said Western Maryland Blues Fest caters to some people's tastes while excluding others'.

She told the council that the country "was founded by the Christian principle."

Outside City Hall, two merchants said they weren't put off by the council's reaction.

"We were seeking their feedback," said Carol Norton of Jane Anderson Brides and Michael's Formal Wear on North Potomac Street.

However, Valerie Minteer of Cloak & Cupboard Antiques in Public Square said Metzner's assumption about "inspirational" music was incorrect. She said it could refer to any music that inspires listeners.

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