Church seeks to ‘love on community’ through fall festival

D. EVERETT SMITH/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Lydia Stroble, left, introduces her pony Beauty to 4-year-old Meadow and her mother Olivia Lowe, of Collinsville.

JERSEY SHORE — With the thermometer finally dropping to its appropriate October temperatures, nearly 3,000 people gathered recently at the Crossroads Church in Jersey Shore to celebrate its seventh annual Fall Festival.

Booths of tents and tarps were set up along with bounce houses, games of skill and chance, families of all ages congregated with food and pumpkins and ice cream as the smell of hot dogs and popcorn filled the air. Contemporary Christian music played from speakers on either side of a makeshift stage.

The area around the Crossroads Church sanctuary building was marked off with bales of hay as lines of families waited to get in and sign up for the chance to win gift cards and electronics.

According to John Phillips, senior pastor of the Crossroads Church, schools in the area also have events celebrating the seasons change, the beginning of school and Halloween, the members of the church asked, “Why couldn’t we do it?”

Phillips said the church wanted to “invite our community here on our property to do nothing but just love on them, serve them and bless them because that just who we are.”

“Part of core values is to love all (and) serve all,” Phillips said.

Phillips added that with the seasons are “changing, people are going back to school and this is the great time of the year to show the community we love them and they’ll come out to this and it’s cooler outside and it’s fun for the kids.”

According to Children’s Pastor Jamie Bailey, preparation for the fall festival begins the day after the previous year’s event.

“At the end of this year, we start (organizing) for next year,” Bailey said with a laugh. “But about two months out, (that’s) when it starts getting hot and heavy.”

Bailey said over 100 members from the church volunteer to run the booths, help with parking and serve food.

Phillips said while the church purchases much of the food, members will donate food and they have received donations from such local companies.

He explained that not everybody could be serving, so instead they donate.

“Mostly the congregation gets behind us. They donate a lot of the candy and the giveaways. It’s really a congregationally supported event,” Phillips said.

One of the other highlights of the event was the miniature petting zoo, which featured a goat and a 10-year-old miniature paint horse named Beauty, which belonged to ninth grader Lydia Stroble, who taught proper petting methods to the other children.

One of those children was 4-year-old Meadow, who, along with her mom Olivia Lowe, of Collinsville, patted Beauty’s nose and side.

“I think this is an event that bring everyone together,” Lowe said. “We plan on coming back next year.”

One family, from Linden, had attended this last year and enjoyed it so much they returned this year.

“This is our second year here and the kids love it,” Zach King said. He attended with his wife Tiffany, their 4-year-old son, Levi and 2-year-old daughter Adaline.

Bailey said because of the church seeking to “love on the community,” festival-goers, begin attending the church.

“We get a lot of stories from families that show up here and feel the love that we are trying to give out and finding (us) as a church home and really get connected with God, which at the end of the day is what we are after,” Bailey said.

Phillips said the church uses events like this to go that extra step to connect people with God.

“A lot of churches have the reputation of wanting to take things from people and we wanted to be the church that said, ‘No, we don’t want anything from you, we want to give to you. We want to be a blessing,’ “ Phillips said.

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