City balks, but people flock to harvest festival

October 23, 2005|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI


Despite bouts with controversy and bleak weather conditions, the Downtown Hagerstown Harvest Festival yielded a hearty crop of activity Saturday afternoon at Public Square and Faith Chapel in the Bridge of Life Center.

Nearly 400 people came out for the festival, which was free and open to the public. The event offered a trolley tour of 12 local historical churches, children's fall-themed activities and live performances by Boonsboro Praise Band, Forgiven and Faith Chapel One Accord youth group.

Debate surrounding the event arose as a result of language used in a proposal sent by the planning committee to Hagerstown City Council, festival coordinator Maria Weese said.


Weese said the proposal included terms such as "revival" and "inspirational music." The city council opted not to provide any financial support for the event, citing its Christian theme, and event planners went on to secure resources solely through church sponsorships, Weese said.

Jack Payne, pastor of Boonsboro Family Worship Center, led his church to sponsor the event. Payne, 33, of Boonsboro, said he believes city council generally supports projects that bring business and activity to downtown Hagerstown, but that both the council and Destination Hagerstown "backed out when they heard the word 'Jesus.'"

"(City council) said we could have it as long as no city dollars touch it," Payne said. "They have beer festivals. I would think there are enough Christian taxpayers in town that we could have a festival bringing a message of hope."

Pastor Dean Pryor of Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church said he was disappointed that city council pointed to separation of church and state, and that he would like to see the city sponsor an event with a "family atmosphere" such as the Harvest Festival in the future.

"Separation of church and state is often misinterpreted and it's unfortunate," Pryor said. "Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Baptist Association in New England to say that the government shouldn't tell the church what to do, not to keep the church out of government functions."

Josh Harshman, 22, of Hagerstown, took a group of youth from Stone Bridge Transitional Care Home to the festival.

"I like the whole purpose of the festival - carrying the message of Christ, the message of the cross - for the kids to hear that," Harshman said.

Emily Irwin, Adrienne Kramer and Alexis Barone, three 10-year-old friends from Hagerstown, said they were happy to make their own jewelry.

Latoya Frisby, 16, of Hagerstown, said she enjoyed painting pumpkins, while C.J. Rinehart, 11, also of Hagerstown, said his favorite part was the trolley tour of churches.

"Just seeing everything was the best thing," Rinehart said.

Weese said the first-time event began as an idea sparked by area merchants at a meeting of Destination Hagerstown, a group that promotes growth and revitalization of downtown Hagerstown.

"They came up with the idea to do a trolley tour of downtown churches." Weese said. "The churches are beautiful."

Weese said she took the idea to area pastors, who responded with support and enthusiasm. With 12 churches on board to participate in a historical tour, Weese said she and the growing planning committee decided to expand the event to include musical entertainment and children's activities.

"We thought with a tour of churches, it makes sense to have church-related music. Put it as a package for the event," Weese said.

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