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A feeling of community

June 04, 2006|by MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN

The talk along Maryland Avenue was of baseball, graduations and whether or not it would rain.

While a younger generation compared plans for the summer, their grandparents reminisced about community life from another era.

Families, friends and newcomers came together Saturday at a neighborhood block party hosted by St. Andrew's United Methodist Church.

There was music, food and games, but there also was the opportunity to renew acquaintances and form new relationships.

"It's our way of letting the community know we're more than just a building with a steeple on it," said the Rev. Mike Henning, the church's pastor.

According to Henning, this is the second year the church has hosted the event, which he views as an outreach ministry.

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"While we want people to come and enjoy themselves, we also want to provide an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the church and the programs we offer," Henning said. "We want the neighborhood to sense our joy and enthusiasm."

"Our purpose is to let people know we're here to help and serve," said Stephanie Ernde, a member of the planning committee. "We also want the community to have a safe place to come and have fun. We're the free alternative to the (Western Maryland) Blues Fest."

Ernde said work on the block party began shortly after the conclusion of last year's event.

"A lot of people work throughout the year to make this event a success," Ernde said. "But we've been very fortunate, both with church volunteers and businesses in the south end of town who help sponsor this event."

Ernde said this year's block party featured something for everyone. In addition to children's games, information booths were set up by the American Cancer Society, the Washington County Child Advocacy Center and the church's parish nurse program, which offered free blood pressure screenings and information on nutrition.

The Hagerstown Police Department was available for children's fingerprinting, and a firetruck was scheduled to take visitors for a ride.

Entertainment was provided by Forgiven, a Christian rock band.

Ernde said that while many people who attend the block party are church members, the event also attracts families from the neighborhood.

Among those enjoying Saturday's activities was Amanda Hodges, who brought her two children.

"Our backyard is next to the church," Hodges said. "We got a flier in the mail and thought it would be fun. We love doing this sort of thing."

Hodges said her son Andrew, 2 1/2, was especially excited about the event.

"He couldn't wait to get over here," she said.

As pastor of the church, Henning said he knows the amount of effort it took to make the block party a success.

"It takes a lot of folks working together to make things run smoothly," he said. "But looking around, it's worth it. It's a fun event, but it's also a way to connect to our community and reach out to others."

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