Year three of the “Praise in the Park” summer series began Sunday evening June 1 at the Garden Park in downtown Rockford.
The worship team from Grace Fellowship Church in Comstock Park took the stage leading praise songs such as “Jesus, Messiah,” and “Your Great Name.”
They even passed around lyric sheets for those who wanted to sing along.
It was a beautiful beginning for the weekly series, which features music from more than a dozen northern Kent County churches and several other Christian artists.
“We’ve had more interest from churches this year who have asked to be a part of it and we expanded it to 16 weeks,” noted organizer Richard Moll of the Sunday schedule.
The opening evening weather was perfect for the outdoor setting along the Rogue River, drawing around 150 persons seated on lawn chairs, blankets or picnic tables.
“We have yet to have rain on any of our Sunday nights,” said Moll of their track record.
Some of the churches that led the music last year are back again in 2014, including Rockford Baptist, Bridgeway Community and Solon Center Wesleyan (see schedule below). Others such as Rockford United Methodist, Rock River Church, and Blythefield Hills Baptist have been participating since year one.
“With the different churches there are some songs in common,” Moll said. “But between all the hymns in hymnbooks and all the newer music these days, there’s a lot to choose from.”
There’s also are two Christian bands – Perfect Shelter and Crosswise – as well as singer-songwriter Marty Miller taking a turn in the series.
A first time note in the line-up is on Aug. 24 when two churches (Casnovia Reformed and Chapel Hill United Methodist in Kent City) combine efforts to present the music.
| “They’re a little farther away and I was surprised to hear of their interest,” said Moll. “But I’m excited to hear what they’ll be bringing.”
To kick off this season, music leader Aileen Matheson and her ensemble from Grace Fellowship Church performed contemporary worship songs such as “Never Gonna Stop” and “Lord I Need You.” But the six-member worship team also turned the clock back a bit with the older ballad, “Through It All.”
“These are songs we sing regularly at our church,” she said later. “I could see our people here from (Grace Fellowship) were singing along!”
ATTENTION TO DETAILS
Moll has paid attention to the small things in planning and overseeing the event, which requires approval each year from the Rockford City Council.
“Each group has to provide its own insurance, but that’s pretty typical,” said Moll, a retired educator.
He also requests that listeners do not block the White Pine Trail, frequented by walkers and bike riders. The trail runs through Garden Park next to the green space where event spectators place their lawn chairs.
“I actually want people from the trail to hear the music and maybe decide they want to stay and listen,” Moll reasoned.
The organizer has also worked with area food and restaurant businesses who offer discounts and specials to those in attendance. Discount coupons are available on the event website, but on opening night Moll made them available in quantity.
Public restrooms are just a block away.
Moll also has resisted receiving donations or passing an offering plate during Praise in the Park. “I just want people to come and enjoy the music, and not feel like...‘Oh, a collection plate is coming around.’”
He’s asks the music artists to remind spectators to pick up their trash before they leave.
SOME SURPRISES ON THE WAY
Some of the churches bring elements beyond the music.
On opening night Grace Fellowship volunteers distributed little packets of fruit snacks stamped with the message “May the ‘Grace’ of God be with you always.”
They also mentioned an upcoming concert at their church – the Southern gospel group Gold City on Aug. 24
“Last year Rockford Baptist made the evening a great family outing, with snow cones, a popcorn machine and face painting for kids,” Moll recalled.
The largest Praise in the Park audience in 2013 was when Blythefield Hills Baptist led the music.
“We don’t have a lot of parking here, so they asked people to park at their church and brought them here in busses,” said Moll of the crowd which swelled above 500.
Those in the Rockford Garden Park on this year’s warm and sunny opening evening seemed pleased at the experience.
“The music is very refreshing,” said Kevin Olney of Belmont. “And on a night like tonight, it’s top notch.”
If You Go:
“Praise in the Park”
6 p.m. Sundays all summer long in Rockford Garden Park just off W. Bridge St.
(along the east side of the Rogue River by the dam in downtown Rockford)
Free admission. For more information visit www.rpmoll.com/praise
The remaining church and music artist schedule:
June 8 – Rockford Baptist
June 15 - Bella Vista
June 22 – River Rock
June 29 – Crossfire
July 6 – The Springs
July 13 – Marty Miller
July 20 – Perfect Shelter
July 27 – CrossWise
Aug. 3 – Bridgeway Community
Aug. 10 – Rockford United Methodist
Aug. 17 – Blythefield Hills Baptist
Aug. 24 – Chapel Hill United Methodist &
Aug. 31 – Grace Fellowship
Sept. 7 – Solon Center Wesleyan
Sept.14 – Bridgeway Community