Pennsylvania Car Show Brings Community Together
By Kim Ousley
Pastor Dean Ward grew up going to car shows with his parents. His mom and dad loved the excitement and activities surrounding the day. Shiny metal and unique features of the retro vehicles bring the past generations alive at a car show. But what does an annual car show do for a church in a small town? Turns out, it has a big impact on the community surrounding it.
Started in 2008, the car show at The River Community Church in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, has continued to be a big hit annually for the past sixteen years. “Actually, it was my mom’s idea,” said Ward. “At first I was hesitant, but Mom is persistent.”
Ward, his wife Leslie, and their four children moved to New Kensington because he felt a strong calling to be light in a dark place. New Kensington is where his wife grew up, and it had great memories once upon a time. Now, drugs and crime were rising in the area when they moved back. The community has made them feel welcome, and he thinks it is the previous connection of his wife and her family who have lived there a long time.
This year, the sixteenth annual car show was held on May 22, a beautiful Sunday in the area. Ward gave his message that day outside; that day, as usual, he offered a car-themed message of God’s love and redemption. Many folks, including the people attending the car show, bring lawn chairs, grab donuts and coffee, and then listen to the message. Many neighbors, who normally wouldn’t attend church service, come to this service outside.
“Let’s be a light in a very dark place,” spoke Ward. “We never came with open hands [to receive]. Instead, we serve them.”
The first car show the church hosted was on Father’s Day in 2006. There were 25 cars belonging to friends of his parents. Next year, there were between 150 and 200 cars! There are also children’s activities, free food, and entertainment provided. Volunteers gladly serve the take-out food of fried chicken, green beans, rolls, and the like.
The church serve between four and five thousand folks now. Their budget is $1,000. Even though they don’t ask for money, people donate anyway. Businesses in the town donate beautiful baskets as gifts. Now, New Kensington has a revitalized downtown with new businesses moving in and creating a new environment for families to enjoy.
“It’s not about the cars, but they are the vehicle to reaching people. It gives a setting to reconsider that maybe God is as good as people say.”
Ward shared that they had shirts printed with “I don’t go to church” on the front and “I am the church” on the back. His volunteers for the car show wore them as a wonderful message to the visitors and community that they are here to share God’s message and they are loved.
Before the car show, the service in which the event would be heavily promoted was both creative and fun, and worth watching.
Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Previous-year photo of the New Kensington car show.