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This column started more than a year ago as a build up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As the resident Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, my church lifted up that event in education, worship and one huge gift to the community in the form of an Oktoberfest celebration with bounce houses, pumpkin painting and animals for the young and young at heart; free food and games for everyone; and of course, a certain malted adult beverage available, which is the hallmark of the true Oktoberfest in Germany.
We presented it as a free gift with no charge to show Wilson in a very practical way what God’s grace is like: a gift with no strings attached! As it turned out, there had been hurricanes that caused folks much distress and we accepted donations for disaster relief. The community responded to our generosity by giving well over $1,000 to help those distressed by hurricane damage.
The event was so huge and well received that everyone said, “You have to do this again!” Well, guess what? Next weekend, that’s exactly what we intend to do!
It’s the 501st anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and we will have all of those things I listed above along with some extras. We had such a positive response to our Free Comic Book Weekend a couple of weeks ago that a bunch of the artists from that event have asked if they could be represented at Oktoberfest. And so, there will be local artists (though some come from all over the state). We also found out during our mini Comic-Con that our sponsor, Arkham Comix, was celebrating the 15th anniversary of a little comic book called The Walking Dead from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the same time as our event. But rather than see that as a competition, we chose to see that as a complementary event and decided to cross-promote both events as one can go from one to the other. (To be honest, give some of these Lutherans a beer or two and you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between the Lutheran from The Walking Dead anyway.)
From last year, we realized also that the model of giving a free gift to the community actually begged for an outlet as a response, so we have already designated Veterans Residential Services as a recipient of any donations that folks would like to make. VRS helps veterans get on their feet in what we hope will be a fresh start. The motto we came up that is to be posted by the keg is:
“Raise one for the Veterans...
Oktoberfest 2018 supporting a Fresh Start for Vets!”
Of course, all these plans have been in place for many months. Who knew that once again we would be having a celebration in the shadow of hurricanes, especially one that hit right in our own backyard?
Now as it turns out, Wilson was pretty much spared (for the most part) from Florence’s wrath, but as near as my own house’s backyard in Goldsboro, the damage is pretty significant with literally tons of tree damage, and as you know: much, much worse the farther you go east and south.
Recognizing the needs elsewhere, Ascension Lutheran Church has been designated as a collection site for disaster relief for the long-term. We will have specific information available at Oktoberfest for exactly what we are collecting and how and when you might contribute. In general, we have been asked to collect diapers (adult and baby), baby wipes and hygiene kits (which have a detailed list of items to be included). We will not be collecting the items at Oktoberfest, but distributing the information of how you might help.
In the end, our Oktoberfest next weekend is a free gift to you, our community, from our faith community to once again show what Martin Luther wanted to emphasize: that God’s grace is free! It is an opportunity for you to join with your neighbors in fun and food and to receive a bit of that grace that God gives so freely. It is also an opportunity to respond and give a little celebration that we have weathered Florence, give thanks that we have the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the gifts of life that God gives, and to give aid and assistance to those less fortunate who need to also experience a gift from God, maybe even through us!
I hope you will put Oktoberfest from 11 to 3 next Saturday on your calendars and join us once again.
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.