Barbie Oberkrom and Kim Flanagan sell T-shirts at the Bethel Christian Church Fall Festival, which features an array of children’s activities, such as the inflatables seen in the background. (Special Photo)
People go home from Bethel Christian Church’s Fall Festival talking about that “amazing hobo stew,” said Kenny Stokes, associate pastor at Bethel Christian Church.
“We do it all ourselves,” said Stokes. “We prepare all the food. It’s the hobo stew that everybody talks about each year. It’s always a big thing — that and the boiled peanuts.”
And that’s just the food. Bethel Christian Church’s Annual Fall Festival is a major community event that has had as many as 2,000 in attendance and even 1,000 one year on a day it rained.
This year’s fall festival is Saturday, Nov. 2, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the grounds of Bethel Park at the church ball field named in honor of the late Roy Field and located adjacent to the church at 1930 Bethel Road in Conyers.
There is a $2 fee per person to attend, with infants and children in strollers free of charge. Once inside, Stokes said everything else is free. He said there will be free food, entertainment, games and candy.
In addition to the “hobo stew,” there will be hot dogs, boiled peanuts and other food along with candy for all the children.
“It will be fun for the whole family,” Stokes said. “The smallest children play games. The adults stand around eating boiled peanuts and listening to music. The teenagers enjoy the inflatables and the whole family goes on the hayride.”
There will be balloon animals and inflatables for the younger kids as well as other inflatables for the older ones.
Brian Cagle of Monticello, who sings country and Christian gospel music, will perform that afternoon, as well as several other singers and groups from the region.
“The festival started off as a safe alternative for Halloween,” Stokes said, adding that he could not remember how long the church has been hosting the annual event, but that he has been there for 11 years and knows it has been going on for at least a decade.
“Our original focus was for the safety of the children in the community, but it has turned into a fun event for the entire family,” he said. “From our church’s perspective, it’s a way to provide something for the community and to be in touch with the community.”
In fact, the annual fall festival has served as an introduction to the church for many people in the area.
“We’ve actually had several families whose first contact with our church was through the fall festival,” Stokes said. “We sent out a mailer about the festival within a 5-mile radius in our area and we’ve had families whose first contact was that mailer and then they came to the fall festival and then have come on to be part of our church.
“Our approach is not to pressure anyone, but to make contact. When people reach out to us, certainly we reach back. We’ve formed great friendships and we’ve had a number of families become part of our fellowship by way of the fall festival.”
The associate pastor said on the day of the festival, passersby see the blue lights of the police cars as they direct traffic and a lot of people streaming into the park.
“It’s almost like the local fair came to town,” he added. “It’s not quite as big as the local fair, but people come out and have a good time.”
Stokes said the festival offers carnival style small games.
“Win or lose, they get candy,” he said. “It’s really just an excuse to give away thousands of pieces of candy. The kids love it.”
He also said many of the children wear costumes to the fall festival.
“That’s absolutely fine,” he said. “We just ask that people wear appropriate costumes. It’s a family event and we prefer costumes not be ugly or inappropriate or honoring Satan in any way.”
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.