The holiday season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with an interfaith ecumenical service preaching hope?
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition is sponsoring the Season of Hope Advent prayer service at 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona. Expect plenty of singing, Scripture and celebration. A reception will follow the service.
"It's a service that's set up to show our community hope," said the Rev. Richard Henry, interim pastor at Faith United Church of Christ.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Planning for the Season of Hope service are (from left) Monsignor Robert Mazur, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament; the Rev. Jean Martin, Providence Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Richard Henry, Faith United Church of Christ; and the Rev. Betty Landis, Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church
"A lot of people from the community will be involved," Henry said.
Church members, clergy, business leaders, health care professionals, judges, law enforcement officials, educators and Mayor Wayne Hippo and Mayor-elect William Schirf will participate.
"We always include secular community leaders, as well as religious community leaders, in leading of Scriptures and prayers," said Joy Kaufmann, general presbyter for the Huntingdon Presbytery.
Last year, a couple of hundred people attended the first Season of Hope service, Kaufmann said.
This year, more children will be involved. The children will carry candles and sing in the choirs.
"We want this to be a broad-range ecumenical service," Henry said. "We're trying to promote a positive attitude in Altoona for everyone."
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition first formed as a result of the Altoona City Council passing an ordinance about penalizing undocumented immigrants who lived or worked in the city.
The area's Christian leaders wanted to counter it by creating a more welcoming community and help people who were in need.
"We couldn't let people go without roofs over their heads or food in their stomachs. We'd line them up with immigration attorneys.
"As we thought about the implicit critique we were making on the City Council, we thought we ought to hold a mirror up to our own faces. What are ways we have haven't been welcoming the community?" Kaufmann said. "What are things we could be promoting that are positive? We started to think of things and what could we do to increase the community spirit in Altoona."
That was when the first Season of Hope service was born.
In January, a Signs of Justice program was held in the public schools. This year's Signs of Justice Program, "a Celebration of Justice in Altoona" will be Jan. 17, followed by the second annual Signs of Hope awards banquet Feb. 11.
"We give awards to persons who are really remarkable in the way they give back to the community," Kaufmann said. "Our point is to offer things worthwhile in the community."