New Life Festival to celebrate 10th year

“Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed. Hallelujah!”

These words ring out throughout the New Life Festival offered by the First Lutheran Church of Sabetha. This year, the festival will celebrate its 10th year.

The New Life Festival is a free event held each year on the Saturday morning before Easter Sunday, rain or shine. This year’s event is set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 31, at the First Lutheran Church, 311 Çedar Street in Sabetha. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m.

This fun, free event all started with a spark during an outreach brainstorming session.

“We were brainstorming on ideas of outreach activities that could more serve and involve the community,” Steve Huneke said. “More ways to get the Gospel out in the community. Thinking outside the box.”

Pastor Michael Dunaway with the Northeast Kansas Partnership — which includes the First Lutheran Church in Sabetha — was leading the meeting, Huneke said, and mentioned the idea of an activity during Holy Week. The activity could include different stations with different leaders, all celebrating Holy Week.

“Everything evolves around Holy Week — what Jesus did for us on the cross and ending with celebrating His Resurrection on Easter morning, so we can all celebrate our salvation also,” Huneke said.

When Huneke floated the idea to additional church members who generously offered contributions of time and supplies, the “New Life Festival” was born.

“As I asked around, one after another started volunteering to take care of one thing or another,” Huneke said.

The idea was to have different stations that youth would rotate around, all sharing the message of Jesus in some way. The New Life Festival was celebrated with six stations that first year, and has continued that format every year since.

“Our focus is spreading the Gospel, Good News, of Jesus for our salvation,” Huneke said. “If we can make it fun for everyone, we all win!”

Stations include a Bible lesson, craft, snack, animals, games, and activity center such as obstacle course or bounce house. Also included is an opening and closing ceremony, as well as an egg hunt at the end. Some of the activities are dedicated to “helping to release some energy,” Huneke said.

“We used to spread 300 eggs, and now we do 1,000 or more,” Huneke said.

As the number of eggs show, the New Life Festival has grown year after year — from attendance of about 30 the first year to more than 100 now.

“I think it is great that at first it was just children, but now we have whole families and parents participate with us,” Huneke said. “We have a great community we all live in, and it is well worth all the work it takes to put on this fun festival celebrating Holy Week and the Resurrection of our Saviour.”

Along with the growing number of children and families who attend, the festival now requires more than 40 volunteers to run the event.

Ever since the first year, Huneke said, the group begins planning for next year on the same day or the day following the current year’s event, “while things are fresh in our minds, especially any changes absolutely needed.”

Preparation gets in full swing before the first of the year, including a meeting at the church for anyone who wants to participate in planning any of the activities.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers and generous sponsors,” said Vicki Edelman, who has handled printing and advertising for the festival since its inception. “While a committee of about five plan it, a lot of people step up year after year to lead a station — and from the time they take that station, they totally take care of it.”

Teresa Deckinger’s mother, Esther White, was the New Life Festival’s first “snack lady” and passed the role on to her daughter. White was, and Deckinger is a parishioner of the First Lutheran Church in Sabetha.

“The snacks always had an Easter message with them,” Deckinger said. “She [Esther] believed you could witness anywhere and anytime, and witnessing to children was her passion.”

Deckinger took over snacks one year when her parents spent Easter in Texas, and has done it ever since.

“The New Life Festival is the best of Easter, better than Sunday service for me,” Deckinger said. “You get to help tell the greatest story, and the kids and parents are so excited. It’s just electric!”

Something that both Edelman and Huneke say is really neat about the New Life Festival is how families from many different faiths not only attend, but also volunteer to help.

Chris and Cherie Grimm, parishioners of St. Augustine Catholic Church, say they have been attending or helping with the event since the first year.

“We believe this is a great event that teaches the kids about the real meaning of Easter, while having fun doing it,” the Grimms said. “With this being the church my husband grew up in and his family still being members, we thought the first year we would check it out. It ended up being such a great event, we just wanted to be a part of it.”

“Our kids now look forward to it ever year,” the Grimms said. “They used to participate in it and now we all help with it. The kids have such a great time and learn so much about Easter.”

Amber Deters113 Posts

Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.

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