In a gesture of good faith, church leaders and members of different denominations in Willow Grove gathered to celebrate their community’s 300th anniversary.
The event, “Festival of Praise,” took place May 15 at , which is also celebrating its 75th year in Willow Grove.
According to Ed Barnes, ruling elder at Calvary, the ecumenical event marks the first time members of different faith communities have come together for a common purpose since the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Pastor Tyson and the church has seen the importance of the churches working together in Willow Grove to present a united face to the community,” Barnes said. “It’s been a process. And we’re just happy to be a part of it and to host this event.”
The Festival of Praise was coordinated through Calvary’s senior pastor Richard Tyson, who is a member of the Willow Grove 300 steering committee.
Tyson recounted how the steering committee members asked him if the churches in Willow Grove would be interested in participating with the celebration.
This was a providential request, as Tyson is also a member of a Willow Grove-area “Ministerium," a gathering of interdenominational faith leaders who meet monthly for prayer and to discuss the concerns of the community.
“There are anywhere from eight to 20 [faith leaders] that come together from every different denominations,” Tyson said, adding that as a faith-based event, the Festival of Praise was the missing element to complete the tri-centennial celebration.
In coordinating the event, Tyson invited all the church leaders and congregations in the area to participate, as well as their choirs.
As Tyson wrote the liturgical portion of the festival, the event’s proceedings were conducted in a manner similar to a Presbyterian church service.
However, in keeping with the ecumenical spirit of the event, Tyson incorporated certain elements that were familiar to participating members of other churches, and focused on the tri-centennial celebration.
As part of the festival, church leaders led certain liturgical parts of the event. During a community offering, pastor Monsignor Richard Bolger spoke more about the Willow Grove Ministerium’s community fund.
“We gather at times of great sorrow, as was mentioned earlier … but we can also gather at times of great joy, as we come together this afternoon to celebrate 300 years,” Bolger said. “We do have a Ministerium fund because, while our individual churches have our works of charity … there are times when the deeds call for more than the assistance of just one church.”
The evening’s guest speaker, Calvary’s own church historian, Dr. Samuel Logan, gave a sermon that spoke to the influence the early churches of the Willow Grove area had on the growing community, as well as their influence on its future.
Logan, president emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary, described William Penn’s idea of establishing a vast land for any faith-based group to thrive, as such groups proved they could work together in relative peace and harmony.
“Firm religious convictions, even those that may be deemed offensive by some, seem to be no necessary deterrence to community development,” Logan said.
Tyson estimated that over 175 members of the churches and Willow Grove community came out to participate in the event, as well as a nearly 40-member choir made up of singers from several different churches.
“It’s always wonderful to sing with a group of very talented people, people who are very enthusiastic and passionate about their music,” John Moore, Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church choir member, said. “And tonight, we came together a couple of hours early, and there was an immediate bond between all the choir members.”
While there were several individual members of different churches that performed during the event, the majority of the choir members came from three churches:
- St. Anne’s Episcopal
- Calvary Presbyterian
- Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran
According to Moore, while the church choirs individually practiced the selections for weeks in advance, that day was the first time the three church choirs rehearsed together as one choir.
Following the service, a fellowship time took place in Calvary’s adjacent building, where members of the different church congregations intermingled.
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For more events in the Willow Grove 300 celebration, visit www.willowgrove300.com.