Spirits were high on Friday night as the sun was setting and devotion and worship began at the tent revival held by St. Paul United Methodist Church of Gainesville.
Church members were wrapping up their weeklong revival, which was held at a tent located at Mill and Athens streets. Family Fun Night wrapped up the event on Friday with games for the kids and free food. More than 100 people attended each night of the revival, according to organizers.
People were singing and clapping along during fellowship, kids were playing and munching on hot dogs, and moms walked around, smiling and holding onto their cameras.
This is only the second year that the tent revival has been held, but St. Paul members are hoping to continue it as an annual event.
"I think the ministry is supposed to be outside the church walls, so that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the past two years," said James Wills, a Gainesville resident and member of St. Paul United Methodist.
"This is an opportunity for us to bring the word out to the people," said Emory Turner, a Gainesville resident who was at the tent revival with his 10-year-old granddaughter, Maya. "A lot of people are hesitant to go to this church or that church because of the commitment, so the church can come out to them."
Maya, who is a fifth-grader at Benefield Elementary in Lawrenceville, said she enjoyed making some of the signs for the event.
"That’s her artwork," her grandfather said, as Maya pointed at one of her signs. "She likes being artistic."
Turner plans on coming to the event again, and he expects it to be even bigger next year.
Evangelist Tonya Moon of Gainesville, one of the outreach coordinators at St. Paul, hopes that more churches in the community will join forces with St. Paul next year.
Moon also hopes that the tent revival will help others.
"We have praise and worship, we offer prayer. Most of all, it’s just been trying to reach out to the lost ones," she said. "That’s our main goal right there — trying to take the church out of the four walls, reaching out to the lost ones, and giving encouragement and inviting them in."
And, of course, anyone is welcome to attend. The tent revival is an event that people of all ages can enjoy.
"It builds up the body," Moon said. "Some of the people here who walk on the streets would never go into the church because they feel hopeless, they feel worthless, and they feel like they’re not welcome. If we don’t come out here, then those lost souls will always be out there feeling that way."
The tent revival is also a way for people of all different backgrounds and religious affiliations to come out and worship the Lord together.
Moon said the tent revival "tears down the barriers of different denominations. We have so many different denominations in the community, but there’s only one Savior. We all have the same goal, and that is to save souls — to win souls for the Lord."
People in the community can come to a tent revival and relax in a positive environment without feeling pressured to join a congregation, church members said.
"Religion has become so formalized and so ritualized that a lot of people may not feel comfortable coming into a formal church setting, feeling obligated to wear a certain kind of clothes to be accepted," said Barbara Brooks, a Gainesville resident and St. Paul member. "Out here, you come as you are. Nobody knows what church you belong to, and nobody knows when the last time you were at church was."
The revival is a chance for people in the community to see and hear what is happening at the event from afar and make the choice for themselves to either join in or listen from a distance to the sounds of song and praise coming from the tent located across the street from a fast-food restaurant, members said.
"People can stand in the parking lot at Burger King without really committing ... but they can hear," said Brooks.
Brooks is very proud of the location for the tent revival because it’s a community site that’s central with good pedestrian traffic.
"Hopefully someone will sit on their porch or walk by and just get something from this."