Summerfest builds relationships with neighbors
By Lindsay Peyton
FUMC Bryan’s campus recently transformed into festival grounds complete with bounce houses, face-painting and a miniature train for Summerfest. In addition to heralding in the season, Associate Pastor Jennifer Webber said the church was providing an opportunity for fellowship for members – and for the community to join in as well.
“Let’s face it, what Jesus does is pretty fun and exciting,” Webber said.
So why not share in that spirit with the community? The church invited area businesses and nonprofits to set up booths on Saturday, recently for Summerfest. Many offered their own arts and crafts or helped with an activity.
There were free games and waterslides for children. The church’s praise and worship band performed. A taco truck served up lunch, and the menu also included hot dogs and sno-cones.
The organization “I Heart Bryan” offered a story-time tent, with Police Chief Eric Buske reading books to children in the shade, along with KBTX news anchor Rusty Surrette.
“We’ve done spring fest and fall fest in the past,” she said. “It’s not a new concept to get together with the community.”
The idea did feel new, however, since COVID-19 put get-togethers and festivals on hold, Webber explained.
In fact, she said, the church was about to host a spring festival just before the pandemic hit last year. “Hundreds of yard signs were printed,” she added. “We just had it all planned.”
FUMC Bryan returned to the building last August. “But not in full force,” Webber said. “It was just for those who felt comfortable to mask up and social distance. We spaced out the pews.”
Summerfest was a chance for church members to see each other – and enjoy each other’s company again. “This was our biggest group gathering yet,” Webber said. “It feels so good to get back to this. This is what we had been missing.”
In addition, the celebration offered a chance to build relationships with neighbors and the city of Bryan. “We’ve all felt disconnected with the community,” Webber said.
She explained that extending beyond their walls is a high priority for FUMC Bryan. “Something that God has been revealing us through prayer and living our mission is that you need to build relationships and build trust outside the church,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have a church home. We’ve found our piece of hope in Christ. In order to share that with the unchurched, you have to make them feel comfortable.”
After all, Webber explained, their charge is to love all of their mission field of Bryan. “The easiest way to do that is through unpretentious activities where folks can feel welcome and safe,” she said. “It’s just about starting to build a bridge with our neighbors.”
Summerfest was a welcoming environment for families. Children had room to run around and roam through all the free activities. Parents enjoyed iced coffees to beat the heat.
Webber received a lot of positive feedback. Some guests said, “We’re looking for a church home.” There were also members who had not been to FUMC Bryan who told the pastor, “We need to go to church again.”
This type of event can re-energize a church and bring clergy and members closer together, Webber explained. “It does wonders for your congregation,” she said. “It gives you something to celebrate, and it gives you the chance to thank the congregation for their love and support.”
The church is planning to continue celebrating the seasons, with its fall fest. In addition, the congregation will host the community-wide worship celebration known as the Awakening Downtown, located at the Palace Theatre.
Other churches and pastors are invited to take part in the event. “At the end of the day, it’s about the kingdom of God,” Webber said. “By including others, we can do more together.”
Any church can host their version of a summer or fall festival, she added. “I think we all need to be creative, innovative and think outside the box,” she said. “If that means organizing a summer fest, do it. How do we help a world in such desperate need of joy?”
Webber asks, How do you meet people where they are – and bring church to them? It’s deeper and more meaningful than simply a festival, she explained. It’s about starting a conversation.
“We’re trying to get to know people, invite them to church, and if the need is there, to invite them to pray,” she said. “It gives us a chance to say, ‘We’d love to get to know you better. Let’s continue the conversation.’”
“It’s all about God and bringing glory to Him,” Webber said.