Seed that took root: Lord’s Acre Festival approaches 70th anniversary

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Emily Vail (left) and Susie Scott help prepare fish sandwiches during the 2015 Lord’s Acre Festival at McCordsville United Methodist Church.

Daily Reporter file photo

McCORDSVILLE — Marylen Vail remembers standing beside the truck bed filled with soybeans, the stake of a sign planted into the mounded top of the pile.

The sign read, “We have a Lord’s Acre project for the McCordsville Methodist Church.”

It was 1952, and the growing congregation had been looking for a way to raise additional funds for a church parsonage, a house where its pastor could stay. Vail remembers being part of a group visiting a similar festival at a church in another town. They came away thinking such an event would do well here.

It did. The fish fry drew a crowd, one that filled chairs carried out from the church and set up under a festival tent on the west lawn.

The festival took its name from the practice of, in a mostly agricultural community, setting aside the crops from one acre of land as “the Lord’s acre.” A farmer then gave money from the sale of crops from that acre to the church. Those gifts were presented at the close of the festival weekend, during a church service under the festival tent.

Between those gifts, and the cod members fried and sold, the congregation reached the parsonage fundraising goal.

The goal was met, but the festival continued — and has for 70 years. It’s raised funds for various projects, from a new roof for the church, to restoring stained-glass windows, to stocking a food pantry, or building a playground in memory of a young boy in the congregation who died.

Bert Ross Brooks, another longtime church member, said the festival of today is different from that first one in 1952. Back then, a festival queen was chosen from among the young single women of the church. Mable M. Belcher was crowned the first festival queen. She and Brooks were just classmates at the time, but several years later they married.

The early festivals, he said, were the fish fry and not as many activities. Maybe there’d be a simple game such a tossing wooden rings, aiming for the neck of a Coke bottle to win a small prize.

Over the years, festival organizers tried different ideas, such as having an ox roast instead of a fish fry. “We had to dig a pit out here. You fill that with wood and burn it. That created the coals,” he said, for cooking the meat. It was an arduous process, and before long festival leaders went back to a fish fry menu.

That menu has stuck and expanded over time to include cheese fries, funnel cakes and a variety of pies. Brooks is partial to apple, pecan and sugar cream.

There have also been years when the festival included a parade. Vail remembers different classes in the church fashioning parade floats with chicken wire wrapped around wagons and filled in with paper. “We were all in competition” for the best float, she said. “They would block off (State Road) 67, and the (high school) band would lead the parade.”

The Rev. Daniel Payton, the church’s pastor, recalls more recent festivals such as the year he was sitting in the dunk tank and it was 55 degrees outside.

A father of three, Payton points to ways the festival has grown in its variety of family-friendly activities such as bounce houses and face painting. This year, a Touch a Truck feature will include police cars, fire trucks and combines.

These days, the church operates the festival out of an expanded building with a larger kitchen and fellowship hall. When McCordsville United Methodist Church added on in 2009, the new part included a row of outlets on the west side of the building to more easily power the cooking and lights at the festival, Brooks said. Tables and chairs are rented and set up, Vail said, instead of everyone carrying chairs out.

The festival of today also includes vendors. It also, this year, will seek to streamline the lines for those eating at the festival and those ordering takeout. The latter has been particularly popular the last couple of years, Payton said.

But amid what’s different, there’s something from that original festival — a kernel, if you will — that is very much part of Lord’s Acre to this day, say people of the church.

“The fellowship — I enjoy that as much as anything,” Vail said.

Payton remembers when he was new at the church years ago and saw about 50 people of the church, at the time, come together and feed more than a thousand at the festival. It blew his mind, he said. He sees the feelings people of the church, and particularly those who’ve seen many Lord’s Acres, have for this shared endeavor.

“You can see the joy coming up in people’s eyes,” Payton said. “There’s this deep old-school camaraderie.

“The memory stays alive.”

 

Click here to see a video highlighting the Lord’s Acre Festival’s origins.

 

LORD’S ACRE 2022

4-8 P.M. SEPT. 16

5-7 p.m.: Vintage Car Show

5-8 p.m.: Face painter, balloon twister, bounce house

6-7:30 p.m.: Church Praise Band on the Music Stage

Always open: Food tent, church playground, vendors

11 A.M.-8 P.M. SEPT. 17

noon-1:30 p.m.: Larry Huston on the Music Stage

1-2 p.m.: Matt McClintick on the Music Stage

2-4 p.m.: face painter, balloon twister, bounce house

4-5 p.m.: Silly Safaris on the Music Stage

5-6 p.m.: Touch a Truck with Vernon Township Fire Department, McCordsville Police Department and more

5-7 p.m.: face painter and balloon twister

5:30-7 p.m.: Church Praise Band on the Music Stage

Always open: food tent, church playground and vendors

FESTIVAL FOOD

Food tent: Features fish sandwiches, fish tacos, hush puppies, tenderloin, hotdogs, coneys and sides; water, lemonade, tea and soft drinks; funnel cakes, ice cream cups, and homemade pies and cakes

Chicken and noodles: Served on Saturday only, starting at 11 a.m. for as long as supplies last (typically sell out in a couple of hours)

More information: For detailed menu, prices, and festival details, see www.mccordsvilleumc.org/lords-acre.