UnityFest, a first-year community praise celebration, drew flocks of faithful Liberty Countians on Saturday to Bryant Commons in downtown Hinesville. The festival’s planning-committee members, who deemed the event a success, coined a mission statement: “Believers breaking down denominational walls to gather together as a unified community, reflecting our diversity and faith through public praise and worship,” and praise and worship is what they did.
“It’s relaxing, and I’ve enjoyed listening to the music and being a part of the community,” Victory Assembly of God Church member Joss Scott said. “It’s about being in unity regardless of what church you go to. We all believe in one God, and we can come together, meet new people and worship together.”
Full Gospel Church member Teryn Oliver agreed.
“It’s positive and brings people together for a good cause. That’s good for any community,” she said.
UnityFest’s featured entertainer, gospel and national recording artist Alvin Slaughter, performed his biggest hits, including “Rain Down” and “You Can Satisfy,” among other songs.
“I often have a set list, but I never follow that list,” said Slaughter, who sang numbers from both old and new albums.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native, who records for Integrity Music, is best known for his blend of gospel and contemporary Christian music. He has recorded nine albums and distributes them in more than 100 nations around the world.
“[This event] brings people together in a time where there’s so much negative going on … it brings people together, and it brings hope,” Slaughter said. “This has been my heart. For 23 years, I’ve traveled around the world doing multicultural ministry with various groups. This [event] goes along with my ministry.”
Slaughter said he and his wife, who has been ministering in Haiti for 17 years, have been doing a lot of conference and church speaking lately. He said they hope to make a greater impact by combining their talents.
Other local artists performed, including saxophonist Bernard Rose and Friends, recording artist Donna Jackson, The McIver Singers, Tru Direction and Voice of Fire and the UnityFest Super Choir.
Local recording artist Shade-Ashleigh Williams, who attends First Calvary Church, performed “There Always,” “Heavenly Father” and “Your Voice,” which currently is being played on local radio stations.
Williams described UnityFest as an open atmosphere where all attendees were free to worship and said she enjoyed the variety of music performed.
“We all realize we’re worshipping the same God, and we can do it in our own way while still coming together,” she said.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director and committee organizer Vicki Davis said the committee would like the festival to become an annual event.
“The goal of the committee was to establish a public praise event that would be a solid start to what we hope becomes a Liberty County tradition known throughout the region,” she said. “The feedback we received during the event was overwhelming positive and encouraging [regarding having the event] again next year. Plans for UnityFest 2014 are already under way.”
Many patrons agreed that making UnityFest an annual event would be a positive and efficient way to raise money for local charities.
“The music has been outstanding, and the food was excellent, too,” Connection Church member Diane Koceja said as she sat with her friend and fellow church member Mildred Baker. “It’s a time to come together and (for) businesses to show the talent and creativity God has given them.
“I think even more people will come next year,” Koceja said. “I had come expecting to pay for parking, but I was amazed the whole event was free. Those who didn’t come missed out. This is a great opportunity to raise money for Toys for Tots or Operational Christmas Child. We can come together and contribute to more needs of the community.”
Baker added, “This is a wonderful atmosphere for all the churches. I would like to see all the churches come together in prayer. God’s all about family.”
Davis said she believes the event will grow each year, but the committee is limited by its resources.
“As we grow our planning committee, sponsorships and awareness for the event, the event will expand to realize our vision of drawing in crowds from all around the region to experience UnityFest,” she said. “We anticipate UnityFest eventually becoming a full weekend of concerts and plenty of activities for children and families. The best promotion we have is word of mouth. The people who attended this year were excited about the event and will let others know that they missed a true blessing.”