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Community festival models Christian unity

Community festival models Christian unity

SPRING HILL – News of the day may focus on tensions brought about by people’s differences, but two West Central Florida churches choose to focus on community needs that bring them together.

Earlier this month, the two congregations – one United Methodist, the other Baptist; one predominantly Anglo, the other mostly African American – teamed up for a Community Unity Festival that drew an estimated 400 people in Pasco County.

Shady Hills UMC hosted the event on its campus near Spring Hill, north of Tampa. Its partner, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Hudson, entertained visitors with a praise dance team and games. Both churches extended low-key invitations to come to church.

Members from two churches put on a spaghetti dinner at Shady Hills UMC

A spaghetti dinner was among fellowship ideas for two churches who teamed up to model Christian unity in their community. Photos from Shady Hills UMC.

The two churches have a history of cooperation, as volunteers from both have been working together for years on food banks at each church, said Shady Hills volunteer Chuck Good.  He and his wife, Cherri, helped coordinate the Oct. 3 event with their friend, Daisy Swackard, from New Hope.

“The idea was to meet and greet people and see if they had any questions about our services,” Cherri Good said. “We were trying to get the message across that Christ made a difference for us, and He can do the same for you -- without hammering it into them.”

She said the area has been growing over the last several years, and newcomers may need the services offered by Shady Hills, such as those offered at the Ash Family Center Ministries. Those services include the Metro Market food bank, a hands-on  home repair service for seniors staffed by the men of the church, a thrift store and a program called “Baby Luv,” which provides newborns in the community with a small, free layette to help new parents.

The Community Unity Festival had all the trimmings of a traditional fall festival, but with the notable addition of a spirited dance team from New Hope’s youth group, said the Goods. The daylong festival included such children’s activities as a puppet show, bounce house, games and prizes. 

The two churches shared responsibilities for the event, with Shady Hills providing the bounce house and dinner and New Hope supplying snacks, games and prizes, along with the dancers and singers. Local Boy Scout troops sold hot dogs and hamburgers at lunchtime, and there was a free spaghetti dinner served to about 150 during the 4 to 6 p.m. slot, said Shady Hills administrative assistant Donna Munsen.

Representatives from each church also offered a brief presentation about who they are, what they do and information on their services and outreach ministries, said the Goods, who reported that Shady Hills had about 22 volunteers on hand that day. 

New Hope set up a table with printed information about all of its services, including a food pantry that operates every third Saturday, and members also gave out Bible tracts.  

“It was a very positive experience and so worthwhile,” Cherri Good said. “It was so much fun, we’re already planning for next year. ... We invited the whole community  here to let them know we have many ministries to meet their needs, should they need them. And we welcomed them.”

– Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.