Families are at the center of this Harvest Festival in Friendswood

By Steve Lestarjette

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What began as a small church fellowship in a backyard in 1996 has grown to be an important Halloween alternative for more than 2,000 community children and parents today, making the annual Harvest Festival at Calvary Church Houston one of the largest fall holiday events in the region.

 From an event that began with a few games, food and candy, the Harvest Festival now includes inflatables, a climbing wall, putt putt golf, a bean bag toss, Rock ‘em Sock ‘em robots, water games, a mechanical bull ride, a dunking tank, and — new this year — a “huge” petting zoo.

“We also have a cake walk,” says church spokesperson Debi Matthews. “You can win cakes and cookies baked by the sweet women of our congregation.”

From its humble origins, the festival now requires a solid eight months of preparation and planning, coordinated by a core group of volunteers.  Each year builds on the previous year’s successes.

“Every festival is different,” Matthews explains. “Most of our vendors supply pizza, kettle corn, smoothies, and so on. This year, we are hoping to add a small vendor fair featuring some of our local businesses, on top of everything else.”

Admission is free to all who stop by, thanks to the contributions of the congregation and more than 200 volunteers.

It’s all part of the church’s “big view” of outreach.

“Calvary Houston is a Bible-teaching church,” Matthews went on to say. “We believe that, as Christians, it is our privilege to serve others in the community. Jesus said He did not come to be served but to serve. Our desire is to extend that calling and example in everything we do.”

The Harvest Festival “took off” as the church began to grow. As more and more people came and brought their friends, the church added a few more games, food and candy.

It became a community event around 2001, after the church moved to its present location on the corner of 3700 FM 528, a main thoroughfare in Friendswood. Pastor Ron Hindt wanted to make sure everyone in the community was welcome, so the church never charged admission.

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“We sincerely care about the community and want to provide a Halloween alternative that is fun and entertaining, one that families and kids can really enjoy,” Matthews says.

This year’s Harvest Festival seems sure to draw more families than ever with its petting zoo and vendor fair. Even so, attendance alone is not the true measure of the event.

“We don’t measure success by numbers because those can fluctuate from year to year depending on weather and other events in the area,” notes Matthews. “We measure by how well we ministered and reached out to the community. Did we give our best to what the Lord called us to do as a church?

“Every year we hear how much people enjoyed the event. They tell us they can’t believe it’s free because we offer so much. People are grateful that we offer this to the community. Several families have started coming because they attended Harvest Festival.”

Matthews acknowledges that Harvest Festival is Calvary Church Houston’s “super bowl” event of the year. “We have a congregation that loves to serve the church and the community. The congregation gets very excited about Harvest Festival, and realizing we are a blessing to the community makes it worthwhile.”

The 2013 Harvest Festival is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. If you are in the area, stop by and pet an animal, or toss a bean bag, or take a turn climbing the rock wall. As you do, you will see more than an alternative to Halloween, but how far one church is willing to go to say, “We love being your neighbor.”

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