Motown gospel songs and contemporary Hmong Christian tunes wafted through the State Fairgrounds Saturday on hot breezes, scented with corn dogs, burritos and tangy barbeque smoke. Tots lined up to pet llamas, ride ponies and clamber through inflated play stations that included a Titanic-inspired slide and a Noah's ark with a pink elephant above the gang plank.
The fifth annual Twin Cities Summer Picnic sponsored by Heart of the City Ministries, an interracial, pan-denominational Christian outreach organization, attracted an estimated 10,000 people. Black and white, Hispanic, Hmong, Korean, American Indian came to eat and sing, preach, pray and listen to the 20 "praise and worship" bands that played 30-minute sets between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
"This is a cool day because they're out to promote racial and cross-denominational reconciliation," said Jane Spriggs of Maplewood, a dietitian studying to be a minister.
Spriggs attended with her husband, Mark, and sons Trevor, 9, and Robert, 6. Trevor was eager to hear a Jamaican ensemble, the Parkview Salvation Army Praise Band; Robert was all for the ponies.
"You hesitate to use the word, but it's ethnic, too," added Mark Spriggs, a professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas. "This is music we wouldn't hear out there in the suburbs."
The event was free to visitors, but cost about $40,000 to stage, said Dan Adler, president of Heart of the City. Expenses were covered by contributions from participating businesses and public donations, but "its strictly a break-even event for us," Adler said.
Heart of the City does monthly events in the metro area designed to bridge the theological, ethnic and racial divides that often separate Christians. The organization uses music from different ethnic and theological traditions to promote understanding among Christians because "we tend to spiritualize what we hear," Adler said.
"The church on Sunday is denominationally and ethnically divided and that's not right," said Adler, a former minister of music with the Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove. "It's not simple to change that, but we want people across denominational and racial lines to come together to worship, to pray and to seek God for real change in the church."
Under a blue-and-white striped canopy, Christian colleges and schools distributed literature, and Christian-based businesses and social-service agencies dispensed information. Eric Oslin of Woodbury handed out copies of "The Shepherd's Guide," a Christian business directory that lists about 700 schools, camps, firms and individuals. Advertisers have to sign a statement of faith and promise to live by a biblical code of ethics.
"People don't want to get ripped off by a lawyer or plumber, so they look to our guide," Oslin said.
Marylee Her, a St. Paul kindergarten teacher, and her sister-in-law Mao Her sat under a tree and listened to the Living Stone, an American Indian band, wrap up its second set of the day. "I like the program because it's free and it's relaxing for the kids," said Marylee, whose husband, Lee Her, is a special-education teacher who plays guitar with a Hmong Christian band during the summers.
"To preach the gospel using music, that's what my goal is and always will be," Lee Her said.
In front of the second bandstand, barefoot Zion's Bride Dancers rattled tambourines and twirled in red-white-and-blue ensembles as their band segued into a spirited Christian version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of the flag, the swaying crowd promised that "'til the trumpet sounds on the final day. . . . I pledge allegiance to the Lamb of God."
Clad in blue jeans and a work shirt, postal worker Donald Hansen of Brooklyn Park raised his outstretched arms and sang along. His Korean-born wife, Mija, a machinist, cuddled their 2-pound miniature Chihuahua.
The Hansens and their three children attend the Evangelical Korean United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center. Born in Wisconsin of German heritage, Donald is one of the church's two non-Korean members. The couple met in Korea when he was in the military and married there on July 4, 1987. Although she had attended a Lutheran mission school in Korea, Mija said she learned English here "from TV."
Describing himself as a '60s hippie, former drug addict and ex-alcoholic, Donald Hansen said that his earlier life was "a disaster" but that he and his buddies of the time had been searching for something that was eventually fulfilled by religion. "By going through all that, we found the Lord, and Christianity satisfies what we were looking for," he said. . _ Mary Abbe is at firstname.lastname@example.org.