The annual Fall Festival of Praise at Rappahannock Church of Christ is a high point for parishioners.
But this year was about more than fellowship; it was also about the future of the church and the drive to build a new facility that can accommodate the rapidly growing congregation.
Starting on Oct. 11, the four-day event featured speaker John Hampton, lead pastor of the 2000 member Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida.
Pre-glow concerts featured a wide variety of styles and artists such as the “Sonrise” bluegrass band out of Spotsylvania and the “All Together Gospel Singers” from Colonial Beach.
National recording artists “The Skyline Boys” from Manassas brought a high energy Southern Gospel sound to the stage, but the runaway favorite this year was a young man named George Dennehy.
Dennehy was born in Romania without arms and adopted by an Ashland family as a very young child.
He started playing the cello with his feet at age 8, went on to learn piano and guitar and is now an established Christian artist with his first single “It’s a Gift” available on itunes. George’s talent as both a singer and a guitarist has nothing to do with the fact that he plays guitar strictly with his feet. His musical ability stands on its own and he quickly brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation.
And this year, the congregation ended the event with a special goal, to raise as much money as possible in one day to jump-start their capital campaign toward relocation.
The church currently owns 38 acres at the corner of Route 3 and Scott Town Road and is planning to build a new facility on that property.
Toward that end, the leadership challenged members to raise a quarter of a million dollars on October 14.
“Honestly, I thought that goal was outrageous,” said Senior Minister Walker Gaulding. “But our people said ‘If you’re going to call it a Miracle-Day offering, then the goal has to be so high that only a miracle could make it happen.’ I thought that made perfect sense, but it was still hard for me to appeal to the church for an amount like that.”
At the end of each morning service, the church holds two identical Sunday morning services for space reasons, the congregation left their seats and filed by an old cement-encrusted wheelbarrow.
Leading the way, children from RCoC’s “Kids’ Church” program dropped their savings in. The rest of the congregation then made their way to the front.
At the end of the procession, the wheelbarrow contained hundreds of dollars in loose change as well as the checks of the regular givers.
“Church members got creative with their giving,” Gaulding said. “We heard about a family who sold an SUV and another couple who sold their jewelry and silver, including a family heirloom pocket-watch and the man’s college class ring.”
Walker said that another family sold an antique piggy bank to someone who had been offering to buy it for years.
“During the service, one couple brought the title to a 2004 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle and another man brought the keys to his motorcycle and turned them over,” Gaulding said. “All together, we know of three motorcycles either sold or donated outright. And these are just the stories we heard about. There are undoubtedly many more stories of true sacrifices that we may never hear. I was told by the counting team that the vast majority of the individual giving was from a few hundred dollars to ten thousand dollars, so this total represents a true grass-roots effort – everybody’s contribution was critical. It was very humbling.”
After an old fashioned dinner on the grounds, members filed back into the building to hear the grand total announced.
As the “Skyline Boys” sang one of their favorite songs “Until God Turns This Thing Around,” a ticker on the church’s big-screen began to click off the numbers.
A cheer went up at $50,000 and another at $100,000.
The excitement was intense as the ticker raced by the $150,000 mark and the celebration was deafening when $200,000 rolled by.
When the numbers finally stopped, the quarter million dollar goal was not quite reached, but an astounding $221,556.40 had been raised in a single day.
“This is just a start,” Gaulding said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but God is blessing, and our people have clearly demonstrated their commitment to build bigger and make room for those who want to come. In the meantime, if you know anybody who wants to buy a couple of nice motorcycles . . .”