More than 100 area churches and other sponsors have teamed up to offer a free family-friendly festival featuring nationally known Christian music performers on Saturday, July 14, at Glen Oak Park in Peoria.
“For this one day we will become one large family as we forget about our differences…and break down the barriers that separate us in society,” states a news release prepared by Ron Foster, one of the event coordinators.
While this will be the first Unite Fest, it builds on two previous festivals—the One Puzzle Festival held in Chillicothe in 2016 and the River City Unite Fest held at the Peoria High School football field in 2017—according to Brent Ressler, co-coordinator of this year’s
“We’ve dropped the ‘River City’ part because we wanted to extend it more to the outlying areas so they feel like they’re part of it, too,” Ressler said.
The event is free to attend but people are asked to bring a canned good or other non-perishable food item to donate to the Midwest Food Bank.
“This is a partnership between many different organizations, including the Greater Peoria Area Clergy, many churches, the Peoria Police Department, WCIC radio and others,” Ressler said. “We’ve been working on it for about the last six months.”
Nationally known Christian music artist Micah Tyler is one of the headliners who’s released multiple Billboard Music chart-toppers. Also performing will be award-winning Christian hip hop artist Derek Minor. Others taking the stage will include Chicago-based Christian blues artist Glenn Kaiser, Peoria’s own Josiah Williams, Heart to Heart Ministry founder Kelly Troia, the local band Awakening and several other local artists.
In addition to the music performances, the event will feature family-friendly activities such as Knockerball, face painting, a balloon artist and a foam party.
Gates will open at 11:30 a.m., and the family activities will run all afternoon until about 5 p.m. The top three headliners will begin performances about 6 p.m. and go until the festival closes at 9 p.m., Ressler said.
Several churches have teamed up to provide free hot dogs during the festival, and food vendors will be on hand selling food, as well.
“We’re also going to have about 30 to 40 informational booths set up by area businesses and other groups, and we’ll have a speaker tent,” Ressler said. “We have two pastors from the Greater Peoria Area Clergy that will lead a panel discussion on racial reconciliation in the speaker tent.”
The Rev. Martin Johnson of New Beginnings Ministries and the Rev. Cliff Parks of Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship, will lead that discussion.
Ressler said one goal of the festival is to show that churches can work together and enjoy each other’s company, regardless of individual differences.
“We’re really trying to give an opportunity for churches and Christians in the area to come together and spend a day having fun together, and to reach out to the community and build unity,” Ressler said.
“We’re hoping the diversity of it will inspire people to do more of that, not just once a year,” he added.
Jennifer Engelbrecht, Neighborhood Services coordinator for the Peoria Police Department, said the police department is proud to support events that build on a sense of community in the Peoria area.
“Unite Fest is a great example of a community event designed to provide a family-friendly atmosphere where neighbors can get to know each other, enjoy activities, food and music together,” Engelbrecht said. “As a city, we all benefit from strong relationships between residents, law enforcement and the faith community. Peoria is a city full of people who are invested in making a difference, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in that.”
While the festival is free to attend, the committee is continuing to fundraise and seek donors to pay the expenses required to make it happen.
“We will have donation buckets out, and if we can get everything donated and funded ahead of time for the festival, then we’d like all donations from the day of the event to go to the Midwest Food Bank,” Ressler said. “If we can get more churches involved to chip in and help out, I think we’ll be able to cover the costs.”
Sponsorships are still available. So far sponsors include Samaritan Ministries, Tanner’s Orchard and I.S.I. Consulting, Ressler said. The Helping Hands Resale Shoppes in Chillicothe and Peoria Heights also have donated a percentage of proceeds on certain days to the festival.
The festival venue has seating for about 500, but attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets to spread out in the grassy areas around the amphitheater.
“We’re hoping to have a couple of thousand people attend. We had 1,200 last year,” Ressler said.
For more information or to donate or become a sponsor, visit the Unite Fest website at www.unitefest2018.com.
—100 churches, sponsors build on two previous Christian music events for inaugural Unite Fest–