Punxsutawney Church Hosts Ball, Festival for Diverse Community

By Kim Ousley

Two special events were held this summer involving the First Church of God in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which included different groups of people for each event. The Magical Nights Prom was organized for adults with special needs in the surrounding community, while the Family Faith Festival put a new spin on VBS by including parents with their children to participate in a week of fun activities.

First, Dawn McKenrick, NextGen pastor, describes the “Magical Nights” prom for adults with special needs that took place in late May. “One of our own, Jillian, missed her prom due to COVID,” McKenrick said. “She loves to dance!”

She shares that there was a local high school hosting the prom, but they hadn’t in a while. With volunteers from the church, local businesses donating food, money and services, the ball 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 excitement of the prom volunteers the night before seemed to carry over into the Sunday morning service the next day.

Prom scenes for those with special needs.

Sarah Petroff helped find the committee that would organize the prom for adults with special needs.

“How it all started…there is very little in our town for the special needs community when they become adults. There are a lot of them when you are younger, but not when you become an adult.

Petroff said there was a group of women coming together to help. Then there is a flyer which is distributed to as many people as possible so that everyone feels included. Pastor Rob loved how the elders and volunteers came out to dance with the attendees. “Even my wife was there dancing with everyone. I am rhythmically challenged! It was a wonderful evening for loving people.

Jillian said she loves dancing to “Whitney Houston.” According to Pastor Rob, this ball brought out the best in the volunteers and brought them goodness.

“We even got two piñatas,” Petroff said. “As long as the church wants to welcome us, we will come back.”

Pastor Rob said, “We already have plans for next year. It could also include a disco ball next time.

“A person came to the service a month ago,” Pastor said. “I felt like he came because he wanted to be in the ‘fun place’. He loved my wife!

The second event in June was a five-night event in an outdoor community area where many people from surrounding neighborhoods come to use different areas of the park. Leah Kovarik (Children and Youth Pastor), Bill Young (Worship Arts and Equipment Pastor) and Peggy McQuown (Executive Assistant) participated in the discussion of what happened.

First Church of God Staff

Young explained that there are so many small churches in this area that hold VBS, sometimes accidentally overlapping a few 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 and not just the children so families could learn about Jesus together and experience it as a family.” He said they also wanted it to be in the middle of the community where kids from that neighborhood would be included.

“What you usually end up with is this church-hopping saturation of kids and families doing the circuit,” Young said. “It tends to appeal to the faithful but not the non-believers, so we wanted to create that family experience, not just the kids.”

Both the volunteers and the parents engaged in a conversation that would hopefully lead to building relationships with the families as a whole. Being at Harmon Field where the neighborhood uses the pool, trails and basketball courts was a plus in hosting this event.

On the first night, 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 the delinquent students who attend there. They blow bubbles and use big cannons. The bubbles are safe, hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly of the environment.

No one knew what to expect on the first night of the Family Faith adventure. Even the parents had fun playing in the bubbles with their children. She points out that the flyer to invite the children was sent to all the children of all the elementary schools in the region.

There were tents with different activities spread all over the park. Using the Bible program, each station shared a different aspect of the night’s lesson. Different very talented Sunday school teachers dressed in costume to represent the characters of the Bible story. At the location of a tent, they distributed fake food and assembled it on a table to show a visual example of Esther and the banquet table.

Volunteers were no problem. Pastor Rob was excited when people who helped last year wanted to come back and do it all over again this year. I’ll come and do the games, or I’ll teach the Bible lesson again, or I’ll make snacks,” he said. “Parents are already asking if they will do it again next year.”

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

Featured photo (top): Family Faith Fun adventure.

Norma P. Rex