TRAVERSE CITY — Some churches have sunny gardens, others, shady, green cemeteries.
Unity of Traverse City, whose acreage backs up to the Holiday Hills, boasts scenic wooded trails, a labyrinth or prayer circle, and a gently sloping woodland amphitheater with stone slab seating.
Built by congregation member Mark Kniat, the amphitheater has been the site of weddings, Sunday school overnights and church picnics. But it is perhaps best known for its Crescent Woods Gatherings, a lantern-lit summer concert series featuring local musicians.
“It’s directed to family friendly entertainment,” said June Neal, who produces the series with fellow congregation member Sue Schwartz. “I scour the paper cover to cover, and a little of the Manistee paper, and we find the latest, greatest people to be involved. Sometimes somebody else recommends them, like Jill Beauchamp at Horizon Books.”
Neal said the series started five years ago with mostly poetry and guitar music by talented folks within the congregation. Now it includes several concerts a season by some of the area’s better-known musicians, put on by six church volunteers who handle tickets, CD sales, concessions and other tasks. To keep it fresh, she tries introduce two new acts each year.
Concert-goers can bring their own chairs or sit on one of the stone slabs covered with pillows and pads collected from garage and rummage sales. Kids can play in a toy section under the watchful eyes of their parents. And all can help themselves to bug spray from bottles on a table.
The series is a favorite of the Tongue Family Band, a Celtic group made up of Steve and Amy Tongue on guitar and flute, and their daughters Abby, 18, Lara, 16, and Emma, 13, on fiddle, cello and bodhran.
“Summer can be really busy so we are selective about where we want to perform,” said Steve, who sits down with the family each year to hammer out its performance schedule. “When we sat down this year and Crescent Woods came up, we said, ‘That’s a no-brainer — we’re going back there.’”