SHIRLEYSBURG - An extended hand is what makes Creation Festival a blessed experience, according to participants and workers at the outdoor worship event.
Thousands of hands waving in the air is a common sight at the nation's largest Christian music festival. The bass vibrations coming from the main stage of the Agape Farm near Mount Union cause those arms to sway in rhythm and in praise of the Creator.
Creation Festival takes place June 27 to 30. Tickets range in price from $49 a day to $120 for the four-day event and can be purchased at the gate.
(Mirror file photo) Creation Festival-goers shout during a concert at a past festival. Sixty-thousand people gather at Agape Farm near Mount Union each year to listen to the music and praise God.
Sixty-thousand people gather on the grounds each year to hear music from top contemporary Christian artists and to be encouraged by well-known youth pastors and speakers.
Ian Stiles, youth pastor of Carson Valley Church of the Brethren in Duncansville, will be among those waving his arms and bouncing to the music of Toby Mac and bands like Red.
"I have been going every year since I was a freshman in high school," Stiles said. This year he is taking 10 teens as his first trip to the festival as a leader.
Stiles said he is aiming to help the teens experience God in a way that he had experienced at their age.
"The huge benefit for me was that I always felt closer to God when I was there. When you hear music like Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns, that's about as close to hearing music in heaven as you are going to get here on Earth."
Stiles said the message given each year by the speakers and performers at Creation Festival is one of grace.
It was three years ago when Stiles attended the event with six friends who admitted they did not have an understanding of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
They listened as Reggie Dabbs, author and speaker, gave a message of freedom through grace.
"He talked about Matthew Chapter 12 - about the beggar with the crippled hand who stuck out his hand to Christ," Stiles said. Dabbs likened the story of Jesus accepting the hand of anyone who wants to believe. "Jesus wants a relationship with us. It's a free gift. Reggie made it very clear that night that you can't earn your way [to Jesus]. It's free, if you hold out your hand."
The six friends made a commitment to a faith in Jesus Christ that evening, Stiles said. "We celebrated in the mosh pit," he said, during a performance by heavy rock band, Skillet.
Those who make Creation Festival a reality want the people who come out to the event to know that it is about more than music.
Kevin Rue, staff coordinator with the Creation Festival offices in Medford, N.J., said the festival wants to extend the hand of grace to as many people as possible - even if they do not attend the event.
This year Creation is hosting its first ever food drive through the Central PA Food Bank.
"It's been on our hearts for various years for the festival on both coasts to do something more," Rue said. A second festival will be held July 18 to 21 in Enumclaw, Wash.
The coordinators wanted to reach the communities that open up their hometowns to the thousands of festival-goers, he said.
"We wanted to do more than leave behind business revenue," Rue said.
The staff coordinator spoke with individuals with the Central PA Food Bank based in Harrisburg. Booths would be in place for concert-goers to donate nonperishable items and canned goods to the food bank and help those fighting hunger in the region.
The food bank is also accepting socks. These items will be given to homeless individuals the food bank houses.
Drop off locations will be near the center of the grounds where people congregate for the concerts.
Drop-off facilities also will be available at the gates so that people who are not attending Creation Festival can still donate.
Michael Schaeffer, who attends The Refuge youth group with New Life Assembly of God in Altoona, said he is not missing the opportunity to attend this year.
He said he can hardly wait to get through the gate. And this year, he said, he gets to go for free, thanks to the festival.
"Creation has always been good to me, and this year, because I will be attending missions school in the fall, they blessed me with a free ticket so that I would be able to have more funds toward school," Schaeffer said.
"Creation might just be an event that lasts a week, but the memories last a lifetime."