Harvest Festival and Homecoming
At the 1980 April Quarterly meeting Al Erdman made the suggestion that St. Johns UCC should consider holding a fall festival type of event to raise funds for repairs and maintenance of the building as well as possibly earning enough to eventually add an educational wing. The motion was passed and a committee was appointed to organize the event. Thus the first Harvest Festival was held in September 1980, with a large number of baked goods and all kinds of crafts for sale. There was also a meal served: juicy burgers, potato salad, baked beans, and pies – all of which were brought by church families. The "Bazaar" consisted of cloth draped tables set up in the yard with wares displayed. There was also an auction for which church members donated whatever they could and local auctioneers donated their services. In spite of the rather primitive beginning, the first Harvest Festival was a success!
Heartened by the success of the first year,the congregation really threw itself into the efforts to hold the 2nd Harvest Festival in 1981. Two families donated beef to be cooked. Pork was purchased to use. Jim Farris and Floyd Tempfel became the "cooks” for the smoked meat, cooking it all night before the event and delivering it to the church just in time for the meal. Little did they realize that they would do this for eleven more years! Serving the meal in the old basement was a challenge with a tiny kitchen and the single stairway for persons coming down to get their food as well as persons carrying food up the steps to sit at the tables on the lawn.
In 1982 a group began making homemade apple butter, which was a big hit and was sold at the Harvest Festival for a number of years. 1985 found the members planning and working around the ongoing construction of the new educational wing! The Harvest Festival was not the sole source of funding but it helped a lot and planted the idea that an educational building was possible. With the primary donation by Ed and Anita Helmreich in memory of their son Glenn, and donations from others, the dream was becoming a reality! 1985 was also the year the menu changed from designated salads to a smorgasbord of side dishes. People came from far and near every year to eat the good food the St. Johns' ladies prepared.
Prior to 1988, the congregation determined that 10% of the proceeds would be donated to other charities to share their good fortune with the exception of 1993. It was a memorable year as the Midwest suffered record flooding. Although many of St. Johns' farmers suffered losses, they realized that theirs were not as severe as those who lost everything. The congregation voted to give the entire net proceeds to the flood relief. The people of the church worked as hard for others as they had done for themselves.
In 2002 the format changed as many of our members who had faithfully provided the food and the crafts were not as able as they had been in years past. A new committee gathered to see how the basic idea could be retained with less effort. They asked each family donate $20.00 and 2 pies for the meal, then a group of women purchased the food and prepared it at the church. The new format was successful.
In 2005, St. Johns celebrated the 25th Harvest Festival and Homecoming. A special menu of rib‐eye steaks and all the trimmings was served. A commemorative cookbook was printed to mark the anniversary event.
The impact of this event on the Church at Billingsville cannot be measured. For more than 35 years, members have worked together as a family, creating a way that people could bring "their best" to the Lord, just as the congregation had done years ago when there had been "Lord's Acre Sales". People who have attended have come to know the strengths and the goodness of the people who make St. Johns a reality. The exact amount of money raised hasn't been tabulated nor does anyone know how many lives have been touched. But there is no question that every worker or visitor at the Harvest Festivals have received blessings that far exceed the monetary benefits. Thanks to every person who has contributed their work and talent over the years in any way. Thanks to the people who have faithfully attended and have made members feel good about their efforts. (To AI Erdman, who first suggested this event, you have watched for many years from God's heavenly home. Thanks for your faith in what St. Johns was capable of achieving!)
*Originally written in 2005 by Karen Tempfel and updated by the 150th Anniversary Committee in 2016