Parish festivals create 'shallow entry point' for thousands of summer visitors

Children and adults enjoy carnival rides, food and family fun at the St. Sebastian Spring Festival in Dearborn Heights in 2018. Dozens of parishes throughout Metro Detroit host spring, summer and fall festivals as a way to reach out to the community and encourage a faith-filled family atmosphere. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Detroit area festivals — some new, some decades old — offer chance for churches to evangelize with good family fun

See Detroit Catholic's list of family friendly festivals here

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Msgr. G. Michael Bugarin said prep work for the annual St. Joan of Arc Spring Festival “is a well-oiled machine.”

It’s no surprise — the parish has had more than enough practice, hosting its 50th annual festival and welcoming 10,000 to 15,000 people Friday, May 17 through Sunday, May 19. Guests enjoyed rides, games, food, a cornhole tournament, bingo, live music and raffles.

The parish is located in St. Clair Shores, and about 3,700 families are registered.

“It’s a great friendraiser and fundraiser,” said Msgr. Bugarin, who is also pastor of the church. “... It’s also a great opportunity for families to bring their family and friends. It’s a great opportunity for alumni to come back.”

The church works with the city to prepare, and volunteers work more than 350 shifts. Msgr. Bugarin said it’s an important tradition for the church to uphold for its parishioners and the surrounding community, especially because there have been fewer carnivals in recent years. People like that the carnival feels safe. There is a fence around the entire festival campus, leaving only two places to enter and exit.

Volunteers staff some of the rides and ticket booths at St. Joan of Arc's 50th Annual Spring Festival, which took place May 17-19 at the St. Clair Shores Parish. (Courtesy of St. Joan of Arc Parish)

While festivals are old, common, and often considered traditions, they evolve with the times. St. Joan of Arc’s festival has changed in the last few years to include a prayer tent in the middle of the grounds.

“You can’t help but pass by it,” Msgr. Bugarin said.

Inside, volunteers offer to pray for and with people and hand out cards, books and other information.

This year, the festival also featured its first Nightfire, which included adoration and confession, on Friday. The addition was so popular that it will take place on Friday and Saturday next year.

Msgr. Bugarin said the entertainment part of the carnival is not meant to evangelize, but these new efforts were created in response to Unleash the Gospel, which, in part, encourages new, creative ways to grow God’s kingdom on earth.

At the religion-based parts of the festival, someone asked about being baptized, some attendees went to confession for the first time in years, and many said it was a peaceful oasis from the hubbub.

“We don’t know how all of this works, but God makes it happen and has all of his purposes being accomplished,” Msgr. Bugarin said.

Msgr. G. Michael Bugarin leads a “Nightfire” Eucharistic prayer service at St. Joan of Arc during the parish's 50th annual Spring Festival. (Courtesy of St. Joan of Arc Parish)

Our Lady Queen of Heaven-Good Shepherd Parish will put on a similar event on Sunday, June 9. The two Detroit-based churches merged in 2016 and will host the 44th Annual “Good Times” Festival.

The afternoon will include raffles, games, a beer and wine booth with the Tigers game playing, Polish and American food, and a bake sale. There will also be a plaque dedication honoring late staff member Melanie Megge, and the plaque will be placed in the gym.

The church is much smaller than St. Joan of Arc — it has about 215 registered families and draws about 500 people to the festival — but the event is an important community happening each year, said Fr. Michael Nkachukwu, pastor of the parish.

“A parish is not just for the parishioners,” he said. “It’s for the community.”

He explained that churches have geographic boundaries and are meant to serve everyone in that space. At the festival, volunteers advertise activities and programs the church sponsors, such as a food drive and a children’s basket program.

“The festival provides opportunity for exposure,” Fr. Nkachukwu said. People have joined the parish after first visiting the festival.

Kids ride the “Fun Slide” at the St. Sebastian Spring Festival in Dearborn Heights. (Photos by Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)
A father takes a cellphone picture of his daughter on one of the carnival rides at Our Lady of the Angel's parish festival in Taylor.

This year’s festival is going to be bigger than usual. The Detroit Mass Mob, a group of up to 2,000 Catholics who attend Mass at different churches around the Archdiocese of Detroit, will come to the Pentecost Mass before the festival. Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon will be the celebrant, Fr. Nkachukwu said.

A different kind of festival will take place after the Pentecost Vigil Mass on Saturday, June 8, at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington. The Pentecost Vigil and Family Festival is in its second year and offers food and cultural presentations from around the world.

The church has a very diverse congregation of more than 3,000 families, according to Marilyn Trumper-Samra, coordinator of youth and young adult ministries. The event was created in response to Unleash the Gospel and is meant to highlight the represented cultures.

Trumper-Samra searched church records and called families from different cultural backgrounds, asking them to make and bring dishes from their home or ancestral countries.

“Who better to do that than parishioners who have a cultural identity in that country?” she said. “Who’s going to have more pride in the dish than the cook?”

The result was 35 dishes served by the cooks, who could answer questions about what the food was, how it was made, what was in it, and why it was culturally significant. Trumper-Samra also included the Our Father in the country’s language at each table, the story of how Catholicism came to the country, and the current state of the Catholic Church in each. Guests were treated to bite-size dishes from countries including India, Italy, Greece, Poland, Nigeria and Mexico. The church also supplied hot dogs.

This year will also include performances such as an Irish ballad, Indian and Irish dancers, and possibly Nigerian drummers.

Trumper-Samra said the event serves as a shallow entry point, or a way for people to engage with the Catholic Church that isn’t intimidating and doesn’t require much of a commitment.

Msgr. G. Michael Bugarin, left, talks with a booth volunteer at the prayer tent in the middle of the festival midway at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores. (Courtesy of St. Joan of Arc Parish)

“They’re going to leave knowing something about who we are and hopefully feel good about it,” Trumper-Samra said of visitors.

The event also recognized and celebrated the community’s differences, made people feel needed and important, and brought people together.

It’s fitting that the event is held after the Pentecost Vigil Mass, which celebrates the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, who then began traveling and teaching.

“That was the prelude to this event, that Jesus sent his disciples out to the whole world,” Trumper-Samra said. “All these Catholic Christians around the world have found their way to Farmington. It’s pretty cool.”

Trumper-Samra said changes will be made to this year’s event to keep it fresh and improving. This year’s event will also take place inside. Last year it poured, letting up just long enough for the event’s more-than 300 attendees to walk from the church after Mass to the tent where the event was held.

Despite the damp weather, there were smiles all around, and people stayed to talk after they finished their meal. Mission accomplished, in Trumper-Samra’s eyes.

“Nothing brings people together like food,” she said.

Detroit Catholic's Parish Festivals Guide

Click here for Detroit Catholic's list of Catholic festivals in the area.