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Filled with faith





A large crowd filled Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center -- and spilled into the balcony -- Sunday afternoon for the 21st installment of Ellis County's annual nondenominational worship service.

As always, the theme of unity flowed through the Festival of Faith with clergy and parishioners of all ages and from numerous churches in Ellis County joining the community choir, reading prayers and worshipping.

Even though the festival celebrated its 21st year Sunday, the focus wasn't on the past.

"The reason we're here today is because of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God," said Wes Oakley, president of the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance, which sponsors the festival each year in cooperation with Hays Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Jesus, Today," this year's theme, also resonated through the festival as the Most Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger, bishop of the Diocese of Salina, delivered the message.

Weisenburger challenged those in attendance to find Jesus today without embarrassing God and by uniting, rather than dividing.

Weisenburger focused on the works of mercy -- including feeding the hungry, bearing wrongs patiently, comforting the afflicted and praying -- in relating one's relationship with Christ.

"For every embarrassment, I tend to believe there are 10,000 quiet, humble, blessed souls among us who put those works of mercy into practice, and not only find Jesus today, but by their example, lead many others to find him as well," Weisenburger said.

Teresa Heimann, Hays, who attended the Festival of Faith with her daughter, Bridget, said the bishop's message was powerful, as was the call to unity.

"The unity and respecting the diversity among us is powerful because we are all one under Christ," she said.

A community choir, larger than the risers provided in Beach/Schmidt, performed throughout the event. And for the first time at the Festival of Faith, a barbershop group --  High Plains Barbershop Chorus -- performed.

The group also partnered with Full Chord Press, a middle- and high-school-aged barbershop group in Hays schools -- to sing "The Lord's Prayer."

Despite the new music provided and the focus on today, people still marvel at the ability for the festival to continue.

"Twenty-one years of people of many different denominations and backgrounds coming together for common projects -- and especially praying together --  is rather extraordinary," Weisenburger said.