As you entered the MerleFest grounds in 2009 the friendly faces of members of the Celebration Church greeted you. Not only did they warmly welcome festivalgoers, they also performed the all-important job of checking bags and coolers. Chris Roberts, Missions Pastor at the church, says that as part of their missions outreach the church wants to show the love of Jesus with more than words. "We are to do that locally, regionally, cross-culturally, and with a world-wide audience. We figured that the MerleFest crowd was really all those things rolled into one audience."
Two years ago they set up tents off the MerleFest grounds and were not officially a part of the festival. There they gave away free food and drinks to tired festivalgoers getting off the buses. "We really got to see what the MerleFest crowd was like, and it was awesome! Then, last year we were asked to head up the Cooler Check area and help to welcome attendees at the front gate. We jumped at the chance to do that and felt very honored to be asked."
Chris feels that the church members benefited greatly from their MerleFest experience. "We were truly impacted by meeting people from all over the world. I think one of the best things I took away was how 'different' MerleFest is from all the other the music festivals around the country and the world. I can't count how many times people would say to me that this was the best music festival they'd ever been to. The difference was always the friendly faces and wonderful people working the festival that made MerleFest so special. Most importantly though, they all appreciated the family atmosphere, and I feel that we helped make that possible."
Chris also expresses his personal pride in having Wilkes Community College at his back door. Many of the church members who worked at the festival were WCC alumni (including Chris's wife). "Everyone was excited to be a part and help contribute in some small way with MerleFest and the scholarship funds at WCC."
The funds the group received for working at the festival will reach well beyond Western North Carolina explains Chris. The church is involved with Rick Warren's P.E.A.C.E. plan, and members will be traveling to Bangalore, India in September as part of that plan. They will be working with children in the slums by putting on a music and arts camp. "These kids are the poorest of the poor, too poor to go to school, and will receive instruction in arts, crafts, and music. The money is being spent for the supplies as well as travel for our team to India."
The volunteers from Celebration Church feel that they were able to make a positive impact on the community by showing their joy and love for the world around them. "We are always looking for ways to reach out to people and show them love . . . All over the world people are hurting, and sometimes just a smiling face or a good joke can make a difference in someone's life. We have the opportunity -- about 70,000 times during MerleFest -- to make someone smile."