Punxsutawney Church Puts on Prom, Festival for Diverse Community
By Kim Ousley
Two special events took place this summer involving First Church of God in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, that included different groups of people for each event. The Magical Nights Prom was held for the special needs adults in the surrounding community, while the Family Faith Festival had a new spin on VBS by including the parents with their kids to take part in a fun week of activities.
First, Dawn McKenrick, NextGen pastor, describes the “Magical Nights” Prom for special needs adults that took place at the end of May. “One of our own, Jillian, missed her prom because of COVID,” said McKenrick. “She loves to dance!”
She shares that there used to be a local high school that did the prom but hadn’t in quite some time. With volunteers from the church, local businesses donating food, money and services, the prom was a huge success. The first year, she said, there were 14 adults. This year there were 41 adults!
Pastor Rob Van Fossen noted that the volunteers’ excitement from the prom the night before seemed to carry into the Sunday morning service the next day.
Sarah Petroff helped find the committee that would hold the prom for the special needs adults.
“How this whole thing got started…there’s very little in our town for the special needs community when they become adults. There’s a lot when you’re younger, but not when you become an adult.”
Petroff said there’s a group of women that come together to help. Then there’s a flyer that gets passed out to as many people as they can reach so that everyone can feel included. Pastor Rob loved how the elders and volunteers got out there to dance with the attendees. “Even my wife was out there dancing with everyone. I’m rhythmically challenged! It was a wonderful evening to just love on people.”
Jillian said she loved dancing to “Whitney Houston.” According to Pastor Rob, This prom brought the best out of the volunteers, and brought goodness out of them.
“We even had two piñatas,” said Petroff. “As long as the church wants to host us, we will be back.”
Pastor Rob said, “We’ve already got plans for next year.” It might include a disco ball next time, too.
“One person came to service a month ago,” said Pastor. “I felt like he came because he wanted to be at the ‘fun place’. He loved my wife!”
The second event in June was a five evening event at an outdoor community area where many people from the neighborhoods around come to utilize different areas of the park. Leah Kovarik (children and youth pastor), Bill Young (worship arts and equipping pastor), and Peggy McQuown (executive assistant) were in on the discussion about what took place.
Young explained that there are so many small churches in that area that holds VBS, sometimes accidentally overlapping some weeks. They wanted to move it outside due to COVID and develop something different from all the other VBS programs. “We wanted it to be the parents not just the kids so families could learn about Jesus together and having that as an experience as a family.” He said they also wanted it to be in the middle of the community where kids in that neighborhood would be included.
“What you usually end up with is this saturation of church hopping from children and families doing the circuit,” said Young. “It tends to attract the churched but not the unchurched, so we wanted to create that experience as a family, not just the kids.”
The volunteers and the parents both engaged in conversation that would hopefully lead to some relationship building with families as a whole. Being at Harmon Field where the neighborhood utilizes the pool, trails and basketball courts was a plus by having this event.
On the first evening, Peggy McQuown lined up something really exciting and new. A “foam Party!” She looked into what was the latest craze and this is what she found.
“I found a place that does these foam parties to raise money for the school they run for delinquent students that attend there. They make bubbles and use large cannons. The bubbles are safe, hypoallergenic and okay for the environment.”
Nobody knew what to expect at the first night of the Family Faith Adventure. Even the parents had fun getting involved playing in the bubbles with their kids. She points out that the flyer to invite kids was sent to every kid in all the elementary schools in the area.
There were tent stations with different activities located throughout the park. Using the Bible curriculum, each station shared a different aspect of the lesson for the night. Different very talented Sunday school teachers dressed in costume to represent the characters in the bible story. At one tent location they handed out fake food and put it all together on a table to show a visual example of Esther and the banquet table.
Volunteers were not a problem. Pastor Rob was excited when people who helped last year wanted to come back and do it all again this year. I’ll come do the games, or I’ll teach the Bible lesson again or do snacks,” he said. “Parents are already asking if they will be doing this again next year.”
Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Family Faith Adventure fun.