The annual "Praise in the Park" series – featuring Christian bands as well as praise teams from various northern Kent County churches – kicked off its fifth season on June 5, led by musicians from Rockford Baptist Church.
Although there was a cool breeze, the early evening turned out to be the sunniest part of the opening Sunday.
"God gave us another great day and we're off to a promising start this year," said Praise in the Park founder and organizer Richard Moll.
Rockford Baptist worship leader Bill Colin led the eight-piece ensemble through contemporary Christian songs such as "At The Cross (Love Ran Red)" and "Lay Me Down" by Chris Tomlin and "How Can It Be?" by Lauren Daigle over their 15-song, one hour set.
Church volunteers served up free popcorn and snowcones for the audience of around 150.
On this year's schedule are 11 church praise teams and two Christian bands. Two churches – Frontline Community in Plainfield Township and Greenville Community - are participating for the first time (see complete schedule below).
"It has grown through the years and there are always people asking how they can be involved," said Moll.
Last year's attendance at the free concerts averaged 250 persons per evening. But one Sunday night, an estimated 800 turned out to see music artists from Resurrection Life Church in Rockford.
HISTORY OF PRAISE
Praise in the Park began in 2012, the brainchild of Moll, a Rockford resident who sought out interest from area churches. Participating music artists and attendance has grown several-fold over the years.
Churches such as Blythefield Hills Baptist and River Rock have been on board from the start.
"As outdoor settings go, this is one of our favorites," said Carpenter's Cross guitarist Dave Nelson of the park venue. "We played there last year and had a good turnout and received a lot of positive feedback."
Several downtown Rockford eateries have shown support for the series by offering Sunday evening food discounts to those who attend (coupons available online at http://www.rpmoll.com/praise/coupons/coupons.htm).
"It's a real gesture on their part about giving back to community and I applaud them for doing it," Moll said.
The Rockford City Council, which must approve use of the park each year, has received favorable comments about the series, which has established itself alongside the blues and open mic nights held on other evenings.
There are a few benches and picnic tables in the listening area, but Moll says bringing your own chairs is a must to assure a seat. The White Pine Trail, a popular pathway for bikers and hikers, winds through the park area and Moll urges caution to make sure the route remains open.
There's one streak Moll would love to continue: for 53 consecutive Sundays over the last four summers, the event has never been canceled due rain or other weather conditions.
Tammy Lamange of Cedar Springs is a regular at the praise event, and her Springs Church worship team is scheduled to bring its music later in the summer. "I think it's great that Christians can come together here for praise and worship," she said.
"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 Praise in the Park Schedule:
June 12 – Rockford Reformed Church Praise Team
June 19 - Grace Fellowship Church Praise Team
June 26 - Crossfire Ministries Praise Team
July 3 - Impact Worship of Greenville Community Church
July 10 - Bridgeway Community Church Praise Team
July 17 - Resurrection Life Church Rockford Praise Team
July 24 –River Rock Church Praise Team
July 31 - Carpenter's Cross - Christian Praise Band/Original Music
Aug. 7 - Bella Vista Church Praise Team
Aug. 14 - The Springs Church Praise Team
Aug. 21 - Blythefield Hills Baptist Church Praise Team
Aug. 28 - Frontline Church Praise Team
Sept. 4 - Perfect Shelter - Christian Praise Band