Photo by Kelly White
Graciela Fuentebella, 8, of Evergreen Park, gets her hand painted at the First United Methodist Church’s Neighborhood Picnic on Saturday afternoon in Evergreen Park.
Summertime is for fun, barbecues and socializing.
The congregation at First United Methodist Church in Evergreen Park knows that is the true recipe of the season.
The second annual Neighborhood Picnic was held Saturday afternoon on the church grounds, 9358 S. Homan Ave. Over 200 residents attended the event throughout the day – almost doubling the number of attendees from last summer.
“The church year-round provides a nice, cozy and family-friendly environment,” said James Foreman, of Chicago.
Foreman has been a member of the church for the past three years.
The family-friendly picnic on Saturday featured fun for all ages with inflatable slides, face painting and a bounce house for children, a DJ and interactive games for adults, including bean bags and chess.
Not only were attendees encouraged to join in on the fun, but children were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood children. Adults were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood adults, according to church officials.
“It’s a nice day to get out and enjoy the people and the friendships,” said Wayne Hastings, of Evergreen Park and 35-year-member of First United Methodist Church.
The free event was organized by the First United Methodist Church’s Men’s Group, spearheaded by member Jeffrey Fuentebella, along with Pastor Larry Paris.
“Having this kind of event will give families and community hope, understanding and peace of mind and heart as they fellowship and socialize with each other,” Fuentebella said. “The more that attend, the merrier.”
“This event is a collaboration between our church, The Temple of Promise Apostolic Church, and members of the community,” Paris said. “It is also the culmination of the previous week’s Vacation Bible School that takes place over the summer at the church. The goal of the event is to promote community between both churches and members of the larger surrounding area. We hope that we each expand our circle of friendships beyond our own doors.”
A large food buffet was provided by the men’s club, made up of grilled burgers, hot dogs, chicken and pork sandwiches, fresh fruit, salads and barbecued ribs. Water and soft drinks were also available.
“Having more new people in our church is always my vision,” Fuentebella said. “I'm not expecting for the result. All I’m expecting is to have fun and great fellowship within the community, and God works with the rest.”
Evergreen Park resident Bob Vogeltanz has been a member of the church for over 60 years.
“I first came here when I was just a baby,” said Vogeltanz, 70. “I was confirmed in the church in 1958, and I was married there. My entire family belongs to this church and we are all very actively involved.”
United Methodist Church first opened its doors in 1893, coincidentally the same year the Village of Evergreen Park was founded. The current building was erected in 1947.
The church gathers an average of 60 people each Sunday for worship, according to Paris.
“Our emphasis is on our youth,” Paris said. “We provide Sunday School, an active youth group and Vacation Bible School. We also host four scouting groups -- two of them are for boys and two of them are for girls. This year we will have at least four Eagle Scouts in our parish. Children are welcome here.”
“While we hold the distinction of being the first church in Evergreen Park, we're gaining a reputation for being the church for kids,” Fuentebella said. “Our outreach has been aimed at the needs of children with fun events.”
Aside from the children-based organizations, the church supports agencies like the Village Food Pantry, ChildServ, Red Bird Mission and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), which serve children and families facing poverty, disaster and loss.