Volunteers hold series of festivals at Otsego venue; Ministerial group is uniting local churches/ministries with Aug. 18 service
by Jim Boyle
As life returns to normal and the pandemic loses its grip on people, two distinct faith communities are working to bring people together.
The Elk River Ministerial Association is planning a CommUNITY Worship Gathering from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 18, at the Sherburne County Fairgrounds in Elk River.
River of Life Pastor Dave Johnson had the vision to organize this event to unite and bless the community, which has been separated during the pandemic.
“God never commanded the world to go to the church, but he did command the church to go into the world,” Johnson said. “That’s a big part of why events like this are so important.
“Jesus made clear that the church should unite to display God’s love for the world. As Americans we think of individual churches uniting, but on a grander scale, it is when churches of different styles come together displaying the hands and feet of Jesus.”
This collaborative effort includes 12 local churches and three additional ministries.
The second initiative is being led solely by volunteers, many of whom associate with area churches but worry that as the communities in the area have grown the numbers of people connecting to a faith community have not grown accordingly. Their Community Fests have been designed to reach people, especially lost and disconnected souls. The first was held on July 18 on the grounds outside of Christ Church in Otsego, and two more are being planned for Aug. 8 and Aug. 22 at the same site located at 15849 90th St. NE.
The first one attracted a diverse crowd of approximately 300 people, including more than 100 volunteers, according to Robert Bagne, the director of The Hope Connection in Otsego. The hope, Bagne said, is for the next one to attract 700 people.
The festivals will open at 5 p.m. on Aug. 8 and 22 and will feature live music and uplifting life stories as well as games and activities for all ages. There’s also free food, including Jesus Burgers, which is part of the Firebase Movement and has been one of its most fruitful outreaches across America.
The events have been designed to attract a diverse group of people and families and to connect with individuals and married couples, who may feel isolated or down. The event is open to everyone looking for a chance to get out and make connections with community.
The events in Otsego are being organized by volunteers with ties to 20-some area churches who want to see people find deeper connections. Churches like Christ Church in Otsego and Living Waters in Elk River have been supportive, but are not leading the effort.
Bagne and others have felt a tug on their hearts to do something like this for five years, but it’s finally coming together as people are coming out of the grip of a pandemic.
“We want to build community and relationships,” Bagne said. “We see an opportunity to do that with the free music, the food and, if people would like, prayer.”
Jan Torrey, of Albertville, is one of the event coordinators and said if someone is willing to accept prayer, that can be a big step.
These community fests offer members of the community a chance to visit with people who will see them and are willing to talk to them, pray for them and point them to various community resources. To this end, there’s a welcoming booth, a prayer tent, a prophetic arts tent and a place for dream readings — all of which were popular at the last event — as well as community resource tables.
With the Jesus Burgers vendor that will be there, the events will meet practical needs by serving meals and giving people the opportunity to have spiritual conversations.
The events close at 8 p.m.
Bagne and his wife, Laura, who also is a volunteer, reside in Ramsey. They and the other volunteers want to bring a sense of community to people who may not feel part of the community so they can fellowship.
Volunteer organizer Laurie Bingen, of St. Michael, said the first festival made a big impact on her.
Bagne said studies are showing that loneliness and depression are at all-time highs and marriages are suffering and ending because of that.
They want to counter that.
The testimonies provided at the first event included ones on marriage and family, and three people from Minnesota Teen Challenge spoke about addictions.
“Whether it’s anxiety, depression or whatever, people can see they are not alone,” Torrey said.
Live music cuts out for the testimonies. The Rotators were the band at the first fest. A reggae band will be at the second one on Aug. 8. The music will be by Kofi (pronounced “coffee”) and The Firekeepers.
CommUNITY event will have musicians from multiple churches
At CommUNITY Worship Gathering on Aug. 18, the worship team will be made up of musicians from multiple churches and different pastors will do readings and bring words of encouragement. An offering will be taken that will be presented to Mayor John Dietz to use as he desires for the city.
People should bring chairs or a blanket for seating. Food trucks will be available from 5-6 p.m.
Bjorn Dixon, president of the Elk River Ministerial Association and senior pastor at the WHY Church (which meets at the YMCA), said that 12 churches have committed to participating in this event. They are Living Waters, Nowthen Alliance, River of Life, Church of St. Andrew, The WHY Church, Christ Church Otsego, Church of Hope, Central Lutheran, Emmanuel Christian Center, Elk River United Methodist, Emmanuel Lutheran and Gateway.
In addition, the following para-church organizations will be involved: Timber Bay, Jesus Following and Three Rivers Young Life.
“It is a blessing to see 15 area ministries unite together to bless our community,” Dixon said.
Community Fest bringing musical acts from Minneapolis
Kofi Faya, a Minneapolis-based singer, songwriter and producer, is breaking out of the box of traditional gospel music. Kofi began playing drums, guitar and keyboards at early age and served as a music minister in many groups and churches in Africa and the United States.
The Aug. 22 event will feature music by Dan Adler with Heart of the City. Heart of the City, since 1996, has been bringing a message, model and experience of multi-ethnic worship and biblical unity to thousands of people through the live performances and many recordings of the multi-ethnic, multi-denominational and multi-generational Heart of the City Worship Band.
“In a time when divisions are increasing and becoming more entrenched, the need is great in both large and small ways to build bridges in the name of Jesus,” the Heart of the City website states.
Through the 11 ethnicities represented in the Heart of the City Worship Band, along with the generational and denominational diversity amongst members, they seek to model unity in their music, incorporating styles such as Native American, East Indian, gospel, urban contemporary, reggae, salsa, bossa nova and others.
Now, since 2018, they are continuing this mission through hosting stylistically and ethnically diverse concerts at the Heart of the City Music Factory in Anoka.