TRAVERSE CITY — While some locals flee the National Cherry Festival, two area churches jumped in with both hands.
Advent Lutheran Church in Lake Ann and Life Resurrection Church in Traverse City participated as Community Share Groups at the festival, which wrapped up July 6. The congregations supply volunteer workers to the festival in exchange for a donation.
But it’s more about the mission than the money.
“It’s part of our values, as Christians, that we really get involved with the community, that we celebrate when they celebrate and we grieve with them when they grieve,” Advent Lutheran Church pastor Tim Jahn said. “This is the fun part.”
“It’s something that we enjoy and it’s something that the community needs,” said Bob Webster, associate pastor at Resurrection Life Church. “Whether it was Community Share or not, we would do it.”
Webster said Resurrection Life has supplied volunteers to the Cherry Festival for five years, the last two of which were under the Community Share program.
Resurrection Life members volunteer at several events over the eight days of the event. But the bulk of the work is at the beer tent on a specific day, the Fourth of July. That’s because the church asked Cherry Festival where the biggest holes were to fill.
“We do whatever help they need the most,” Webster said. “We have other volunteers that work in other places, but the Fourth of July is our greatest contribution because that’s where the Cherry Festival has the strongest need.
“Most people have other things they need to do.”
Advent Lutheran Church is a new Community Share Group. Jahn said the Lake Ann church has about 240 members on its rolls, about 70 of which regularly attend service on Sunday.
Advent had a clean-up crew of 10 people that followed the Heritage Parade on Tuesday and cleaned the streets. Five members worked the concession stand at the Festival Open Space Park on Thursday, another five on Friday.
“We’re a small church, but I’ve been impressed with how many people have come and how many people want to get plugged in,” Jahn said.
“It’s all new this year,” added Lindsay Susalski, a member of the church council who coordinated the volunteers. “We think it will be even more next year.”
Members of both churches said working during Cherry Festival is a bonding experience.
“Absolutely,” Webster said. “We have certain people that love to do this every year. They are right there wanting to do it.”
“It’s kind of organic,” Jahn said. “People get involved in projects and bring each other right along.”
While the Cherry Festival is another opportunity to work within the community, it also provides exposure to the church as well. During parade clean-up, Advent Lutheran members wore green parade shirts, but donned church shirts for the concession stand.
“We get to see what’s going on and give people a chance to meet us,” Jahn said.
Even though the churches receive money for their work at the festival, most if not all of it will go toward existing programs.
Resurrection Life Church helps provide winter coats for the Students in Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) at Traverse City Area Public Schools as well as supporting a baby pantry and providing duffel bags with supplies for those experiencing sudden housing changes.
“We always try to help where help is needed,” Webster said of the church that has some 200 members. “It goes back into the types of programs that we talked about.”
Advent Lutheran Church’s community outreach programs include the Lake Ann Baby Pantry, Hospice of Michigan and Disabled American Veterans.
“We’ll use (Cherry Festival money) for a mission,” Susalski said. “We just haven’t decided yet.”
“We’ll continue to invest it in the community,” Jahn added.
“It’s something that we enjoy and it’s something that the community needs. Whether it was Community Share or not, we would do it.” Bob Webster, associate pastor at Resurrection Life Church