Walking through New Covenant Community Church's Safe Haven Cafe on a recent October evening, Executive Administrator Ruben Velez stressed the importance of working outside the walls of the church.
And that night, Velez, of Egg Harbor Township, along with lead pastor Brendon Wilson and the entire ministry, went beyond their normal routine to bring three hours of safe Halloween-themed fun for church members, family and friends.
"We feel like we just have to tell people we are here. We want to be involved with the community," Velez said, beaming.
Although the Somers Point congregation has been gathering for about 11 years, its church is still seeing changes, with a continual need to reach out.
Wilson, originally from South Africa, joined New Covenant as its lead pastor a mere nine weeks before the church's Fall Harvest Festival. He currently lives in Ocean City with his wife, Danielle, and children Daniel and Katelyn.
"It's been excellent," the pastor said. "Reaching out to the community, and just sharing and giving what we can."
The festival, run by church volunteers, included free food, kids games, balloon artists, bouncy houses, face painting, hay rides, a chili cookoff contest, free family photos, prayer stations, a campfire and the annual Trunk-or-Treat displays.
Wilson confirmed that the Trunk-or-Treat, which involves church members creating candy stations out of their decorated vehicles, has been a church tradition for about five years.
But the festival in its entirety had never been arranged at such a grand scale, before this year.
"This is the first harvest after a while," Velez said. "We have a new pastor. We are celebrating a new season here at New Covenant."
The night included Christian musical acts. Four members of the NCCC Youth Band began the night of entertainment, followed by Manhattan-based progressive Christian rock band, Fleece and Vineland's Facedown.
Acoustic Christian performer, Dez Childs, of Blackwood, Camden County, played for visitors inside Safe Haven Cafe, the church's coffee bar hangout. The singer played at the church last week and was asked to play again that night, said her manager, Cody Smith.
"We were able to draw people (in) by different things," Velez said of the event. "We are growing 100 percent with volunteers. Everyone just gives their different gift."
While most visitors were there to enjoy some family fun, Simone Peterson, came out to get her son, Dymir Mercado, 4, acquainted with the town.
"We just moved to Somers Point (from Atlantic City) a week ago. We just wanted to come out," Peterson said. "I love Somers Point."
As Wilson watched his family pass by at the end of the hayride, he noted the significant turnout that far exceeded his expectations.
"The event is better than what we expected. We are just trying to provide a need for the community, a safe place for kids to trick and treat and come out and have fun."
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