On Fairs and Fellowship

For the first time in our 11 years living in Ephrata, someone invited us to sit with them at the parade. Now I need to take a moment to give you some background on . . .

For the first time in our 11 years living in Ephrata, someone invited us to sit with them at the parade.

Now I need to take a moment to give you some background on the Ephrata Fair parade, in case you’re not an Ephrata local. Since 1919—yes, 100 years—Ephrata has had a street fair (seriously, they close down Main Street and set up the fair on it). On the Wednesday night of fair week, there is a parade, which has been occurring for 86 years.

The parade is serious business in Ephrata. The borough had to pass regulations on how soon people could stake out their spots along the parade route. The earliest you can put out a chair to mark your spot is at noon the Sunday before the parade. Yes, 3 1/2 days before the parade starts!

The bagpipes take the lead.

The parade and fair are so important to Ephrata that the schools are closed on Thursday. That way the kids can stay up late for the parade on Wednesday and enjoy the fair ride and foods on Thursday. Trust me, the fair parade is a big deal. Businesses close early. Churches don’t bother to hold Wednesday night programs (no one would come). Kids arrive with bags to collect the candy tossed along the route.

Marching bands are bused in from neighboring districts and from schools and colleges more than an hour away. Mummers clubs come from Philadelphia to strut their stuff. Dance teams and football teams display their prowess. Tractors, fire trucks, and military equipment get in line. Area businesses create floats and provide said candy.

Once, a year or so after we moved here, Les and I went to the parade, sitting in bleacher seats rented out by the local rec center. We sat alone, knowing no one, feeling out of place, feeling like ridiculous losers, actually. The whole thing seemed lame. Two other years we ate dinner in a second-floor restaurant and watched the parade pass by below us. Most years we just didn’t attend at all.

Earlier this week, we and a bunch of other people received an invite to join a family from our church who live along the parade route, food included. We decided to give it a go. Families arrived and we all set up chairs or blankets along the sidewalk. We ate and talked and laughed as we waited for the parade to start. Children raced around collecting new friends.

As the opening act—a bagpipe troupe—started in, the kids were mingling at the edge of the street, bags ready to receive the candy thrown their way. Everyone watched everyone else’s kids, pulling them back when they ventured too far into the street for that wayward pack of Smarties. We rotated around talking with each other, holding babies, petting the heads of little girls pretending to be puppies.

It was all so simple. And it was glorious. It was community. And community—when you truly feel a part of it rather than relegated to the bleacher seats—is lovely.

It practically felt like church. At least like the fellowship of the church described in Acts 2: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. . . . They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” We left, our hearts full, our plans already made to be right there on that sidewalk of friends next year.

Who can you make a point to invite this week to be part of your community—whatever it’s formed around?

4 thoughts on “On Fairs and Fellowship”

  1. It’s great you were finally able to experience the community of the Ephrata Fair/Parade instead of just attending. Growing up in Ephrata, this week provided fond memories and still is a place we reunite with classmates each year. In fact, a few friends fly home every year for this annual event. Now that I live in New Holland, it extends here next week for another week of reconnecting with everyone. One of the reasons we choose to live in a small community where everyone knows one another.

    • Yes, it can be, Tawn, when you are truly invited in. But while tight-knit communities—whether small town, church or even a business—can be nurturing and life-giving for those already part of the warp and woof of the community, it can feel exclusionary for the newcomer and very lonely. It takes more than being welcomed to the community, it’s being invited into, invited to sit with, to eat with, invited into the fabric of those close-knit lives.

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