A unique gathering will take place this afternoon inside Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center on the Fort Hays State University campus. For the 21st year in a row, the Festival of Faith will bring area residents together for an hour-long, nondenominational gathering of prayer and worship.

Such ecumenical services likely aren't all that unique throughout the country. In all likelihood, however, having a chamber of commerce help coordinate the event is unique.

In this area, nobody bats an eye at the partnering of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance as sponsors.

Likewise, in an area filled with a couple dozen Protestant congregations of all sizes and four rather large Catholic churches -- all who tend to keep to themselves most Sundays -- finding all of them represented at the Festival of Faith isn't uncommon either.

In fact, the festival was originated to bring Christian congregations in Ellis County together for a "common affirmation of our faith in Jesus Christ." That is how the Rev. Dave Williams, former pastor of New Life Center Assembly of God in Hays, recalled the beginning when speaking at the event last year.

"This celebration has stayed true to its purpose over the last 20 years," Williams said.

"The main thing behind this ... is the spirit of God's grace is in it," said Pastor Wes Oakley of Westview Church. Oakley also serves as president of the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance and Festival of Faith committee chairman.

Ministry, fellowship and music will highlight today's festival, with the featured speaker being the Most Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger, bishop of the Diocese of Salina.

While hundreds of people will fill the rows inside the auditorium, there likely will be room for more if you'd like to attend. The 2012 Festival of Faith begins at 3 p.m.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net