Saint Stephens invites Merrill to celebrate Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is a traditional folk festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running 16 to 18 days from mid or late September until the first weekend in October. It began more than 200 years ago in 1810 and is a celebration of the Bavarian German culture. Areas of the world rich in German heritage (Wisconsin being among them) have adopted Oktoberfest celebrations of their own to continue to celebrate their German heritage.
Now Merrill has joined the ranks of those holding an Oktoberfest celebration thanks to Saint Stephens United Church of Christ, itself a testament to our city’s strong German heritage and the German ancestry of many who live here. Oktoberfest will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 4-11 p.m. in Normal Park in Merrill and is open to the public, with no admission fee.
While you probably won’t see nearly as many people donning tracht and leiderhosen, the festival will be rich in German traditions with food including brats from Geiss’s Meat Service, hot dogs, German potato salad, warm soft pretzels, and desserts plus lots and lots of beer! Sawmill Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest and Boom Decker Becker IPA beers, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Sand Creek hard lemonade, and soda will be in abundance. (Cash only for concessions.)
Entertainment will include Concertina AJ & The Gang from 4-7 p.m. and the band Until Dawn from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Plus there will be games like cornhole, ladder golf, washers, lawn Jenga, kubb, and more … so it will be fun for the whole family.
Fittingly, the idea for an Oktoberfest celebration in Merrill began over beers at the Sawmill Brewing Company. Rev. Kyle Carnes, the Senior Minister at Saint Stephens United Church of Christ, was meeting with three other parishioners (who soon became an ad hoc planning committee to organize this event) working on another church project when he said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we threw an Oktoberfest for the whole town?”
“Everyone liked the idea, so we ran with it,” Carnes says now.
That conversation happened back in the spring of 2017, says Jennifer Porath, one of the organizers of the event who was at that original brainstorming session. “We were going to try to plan one for September 2017, but we didn’t want to rush the process.” After making inquiries and finding out what would be involved, the group gathered their ideas and then “started back up in May of 2018 to plan this year’s event,” Porath says.
She’s hoping Oktoberfest will become an annual event in Merrill. “I think it all depends on the attendance and feedback that we receive from the congregation as well as the community,” she says. Volunteers from the church are excited about this event. Hopefully the community will embrace Oktoberfest with equal enthusiasm.
Carnes agrees. “We’d love for it to become an annual event,” he says. “It’ll depend on how the community responds.
“The best way to find out would be to come join in the fun!” he adds.
So why would a church throw a community Oktoberfest event? “To offer something fun for the community as fall sets in, but before winter snows us in,” Carnes says. “We at Saint Stephens own our German heritage, a heritage that is shared with a lot of Merrill, and we thought, what better way to celebrate than with German’s most recognizable festival, Oktoberfest.”
Porath stresses that Oktoberfest isn’t designed to be a fundraiser for the church. She said it’s for the entire community and it’s designed to be a “fun-raiser.”
Carnes agrees wholeheartedly.
“We believe that church is too serious, too much of the time, and leads us to believe that God is only serious. If God is love, then God must also be playful.
“John’s gospel has Jesus’ first miracle be the Wedding at Cana where he famously turned water into wine,” Carnes says. “We believe that God calls us to care for the least and last, to seek justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly, and also to enjoy this life. This life is short, and is a gift to be enjoyed. For far too long, much of Christianity has been too easily associated with prudishness and legalism. We can be wise and mature, and also enjoy life with one another. That’s one of the ways we understand our faith.”
And yes, enjoying brats and beer at Oktoberfest with your family, playing lawn games, socializing, listening to some great music, and having fun can absolutely be a celebration of life and faith.
What this event isn’t: Carnes says it absolutely is not an event “with some kind of religious agenda to convert people or grow our membership.”
It is about community and celebrating and just plain having fun. “We want people to come, to be smart and be safe, and to enjoy themselves and have a little fun together,” he says. “It’s what Jesus would have done.”
And Jesus just might have had a brat and a beer at Oktoberfest, too.