Daily Reporter staff writer

McCORDSVILLE — In the early 1950s, a congregation rallied around the effort to build a new church parsonage to house its pastor. Members did so with creative offerings and celebrated at a two-day festival with a fish fry.

The parsonage that served as a catalyst for the first Lord’s Acre Festival is gone now. The fellowship hall of McCordsville United Methodist Church rests on the site today. But the festival continues, having an expanded format but staying true to its roots as a celebration of giving and fellowship.

“It’s like this huge family festival meets fried food meets church,” said the Rev. Daniel Payton, who became pastor of the church in November and will know the festival only by members’ descriptions until next week. Then, he’ll serve his time in the dunk tank and preach in the Sept. 13 service set to take place under the festival tent, weather permitting.

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He expects to talk about the concept behind Lord’s Acre and “a biblical foundation behind why we do what we do with it.”

The late Herman Literal, a member of the church, wrote in a memoir that those behind the start of the festival were looking “to establish a fund drive that wouldn’t be taxing to the people and still wouldn’t fade out overnight.” More than 60 years later, they appear to have succeeded.

Literal wrote that those church members talked to people at other churches and in the community and decided to bring the Lord’s Acre concept to McCordsville, encouraging farmers to donate the proceeds from an acre’s worth of crops. Members of other occupations found other ways to give, he wrote. A grocer, for example, donated the funds from his Coke machine.

The many people who find unique ways to give are “one of the things that’s kind of cool about the Lord’s Acre,” Payton said. For example, “There’s one individual that makes fudge. … He donates the proceeds to the church.

“There’s people that, still to this day, have these projects.”

Carolyn Scott, a longtime organizer of the festival, recalls how her mother-in-law, the late Martha Scott, gave the money earned from eggs she gathered on Sundays.

Though the festival originated with a parsonage project, it’s become a way to help fund other building and maintenance projects, among them a 2009 addition that includes a kitchen where much of the festival food is made. This week will be one of making baked beans, cole slaw, sloppy joes and pies.

“One of the things the ladies have done (is) they’ve made 16 dozen eggs’ worth of noodles,” Payton said. He’s also seen “crates and crates and crates” of fish carried in to be fried and served during the festival.

This year’s festival includes the traditional festival fish fry with vendor booths — “just about everything you could imagine,” Payton said — plus live entertainment and a Saturday parade.

“We just hope everybody comes and has a good time of fellowship,” Carolyn Scott said.

This year, members of the church also will gather Thursday, the night before the festival begins, to release sky lanterns and remember church members who have gone before them, among them the founders of the festival.

“We’ve got a lot of people who have worked very hard for years and years with this,” Carolyn Scott said. “Their families are still there.”

It’s a sentiment that likely would have resonated with Literal.

“Having the festival entails a lot of hard work by everyone, but an abundant amount of fellowship and fun, faithful giving and our true faith in God prevail…” he wrote. “We sincerely hope to continue with our Lord’s Acre Festival and combination home-coming activities and shall always remember those who are no longer with us in body but will always be with us in spirit.”

If you go

The Lord’s Acre Festival will feature food and vendors, silent and live auctions, and a bounce house and dunk tank. Details of the schedule:

Sept. 11

4:30 to 8 p.m. — Food and Vendors

5 to 7 p.m. — silent auction

Past items have include Colts and Pacers tickets, assorted gift baskets, gift cards and other items.

6 p.m. — music by the Punkin Holler Boys (old-school country, Bluegrass, Cajun and rockabilly)

Sept. 12

2 p.m. — handmade quilts auction (two quilts made by church members)

4 p.m. — community parade, featuring the Mt. Vernon High School marching band

4:45 p.m. — Silly Safari Show

6 p.m. — Elvis impersonator Elvince

Sept. 13

9:30 a.m. — worship under festival tent, weather permitting

Source: mccordsvilleumc.org

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com