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Harvest festival still on

September 20, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A harvest festival that a Hagerstown city councilman criticized for its religious overtones still will be held, but without city support, an event organizer said Monday.

Business owner Wesley Weese said the Oct. 22 event - with Christian music and a tour of churches - is meant to be religious and will be funded through donations from local churches.

"It's also about healing the people downtown ...," Weese said. "People don't have a (moral) compass to go by. They're searching."

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Councilman Lewis C. Metzner spoke out last week against a possible city affiliation with the event, which was pitched by Destination Hagerstown, a group of downtown businesses and community members.

Metzner protested plans for "inspirational" music - which he said is "about nothing but Jesus Christ" - and "a hope to bring back revival in the city."

In the fourth edition of Webster's New World College Dictionary, one definition for "revival" is "a stirring up of religious faith by fervid evangelistic preaching at public meetings."

Deborah Everhart, the city's economic development director, told the council her department would contribute $800 for hayrides and trolley tours.

However, the merchants group was asked to eliminate the event's Christian focus and look for other musical groups if it wanted city backing. The merchants said they might need extra money from the city to replace free musical acts.

On Monday, Weese said the event probably will continue as planned but the funding will change. Neither the city nor Destination Hagerstown will be connected, he said.

During last week's council meeting, Metzner called the event "purely religious" - which he said was fine, as long as it's separate from government.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean countered that the country "was founded by Christian principle."

Weese said Wednesday that some council members don't understand that the separation of church and state is meant to keep government from interfering with religion, not vice versa.

Christians who pay city taxes should reap benefits from that money, he said.

Weese credited his wife, Maria Weese, with the idea for the festival. Together, they own Beautiful Sky Gifts on North Potomac Street.

After the meeting, Everhart said of the event, "It wasn't intended to have a religious theme."

Weese said Monday that he and his wife are openly describing the event as religious. He said the festival will promote social values lacking from certain "questionable" events the city sponsors.

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