Rejoice, give thanks and sing

By Bob Jackson

The ministerial group is planning a community celebration called Awesome-town 2010 for next autumn.

AUSTINTOWN — Rejoice, give thanks and sing.

Those were the words to one of the praise songs that were sung Sunday evening during a community worship service at Austintown Middle School, but they could also have been the theme for the event.

The Greater Austintown Ministerial Association has a community worship service each year during Thanksgiving season, said the Rev. Duffy Roberts of Austintown Community Church. In the past, the services were in various churches with a different church hosting it each year.

“Last year we decided that we wanted to hold it in more of a public form, to make it more of a truly communitywide event,” the Rev. Mr. Roberts said. “This is a national holiday, so we should celebrate together as a community.”

Nearly 300 people filled the cafetorium at AMS for the service, which featured spiritual singing, instrumental music, prayers and praise.

For Mary Ann Phund of Austintown, the service was a perfect way to segue into the Thanksgiving season. Phund said she has attended GAMA-sponsored Lenten services before but had never been to one of its Thanksgiving ceremonies.

“I really like a special service totally dedicated to Thanksgiving,” said Phund, who attends St. John Lutheran Church in Youngstown. “I’m thankful I’m here. I feel peace tonight.”

Tears welled in her eyes as Phund spoke about the things in her life for which she is thankful.

“I’m thankful for God, my family, my friends. And the special graces that God provides,” she said. “It just makes me so emotional to think about it.”

Phund said she deliberately sat alone in the back row, even though she had been invited by friends to sit with them farther toward the front.

“I sat here tonight because I just want to be able to watch and absorb this,” she said. “This is so emotional. This is between me and God.”

Phund said she was especially attracted to attend the event because she knew that the GAMA planned to announce its plans for a communitywide festival next fall to honor and celebrate Austintown.

It will be called Awesome-town 2010 and will be Oct. 9-10 at Austintown Township Park on Kirk Road, according to Brad E. Bloomster, director of ministries at Austintown Community Church.

Bloomster said the idea for Awesome-town 2010 came to him several weeks ago, and he mentioned it to other GAMA members who thought it was worth pursuing. The organization is currently looking for other groups, businesses and individuals to help with planning and presenting the event.

“We really want to get the whole community excited about this,” he said. “While the times may be challenging, there is good reason to be positive about who we are and where we live.”

Bloomster said anyone who is interested in helping with the event may contact him though the church.

One of the primary themes of the community worship service each year is to give thanks to a particular segment of the community for its services, Mr. Roberts said.

“As Christian leaders in this community, we hope we exemplify unity,” Mr. Roberts said. “We want to show that we should not only be thankful to God but also to each other.”

This year, the GAMA chose to honor and recognize Austintown’s service clubs. Certificates of appreciation were presented to the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimists clubs and to the Austintown Junior Women’s League.

The featured speaker for the evening was the Rev. Rafael Cruz of Unity Baptist Church in Youngstown. The Rev. Mr. Cruz spearheads a street ministry through his church, known as the Jericho Project, which is aimed at reaching out to people whose spiritual needs often go neglected because they live in dangerous, crime-infested areas where others are often afraid to go.

He encouraged the attendees to follow the example of Jesus by reaching out to those in need, even if the task seems too daunting.

“The power of God is real,” Mr. Cruz said. “Rather than waiting for people to come into the church, we need to follow the New Testament example and take the church to the people.”

The service also included a touching performance of “This Is Why We Sing” by the AMS choir.

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