RIDGE MANOR — Even though the weather has been getting warmer, snow is in the forecast today in eastern Hernando County.
In fact, children are invited to put on a hat, scarf, mittens and skis and have their picture taken while a machine blows snow over them — just one of several activities at today's Winter Fest at Ridge Manor Community United Methodist Church.
The festival will be 4 to 7 p.m.; it is an outreach effort by the church to the community.
"We have been trying for the last year or two, starting with our pumpkin patch, to be an active and alive church, where people can participate as well as just come there on Sunday," said Carol Defilippo, coordinator for the event.
The pumpkin patch in October was a huge success, Defilippo said. "So we thought, let's go on to bigger and better. That's what we're hoping for."
All of today's activities will be free, including a hayride through the trails on the church's two lots, a s'mores factory, a dunking booth, face painting and three live bands. Games with prizes for all ages include a bean bag toss, balloon darts, a ring toss, a polka-dot penny toss and the opportunity to guess how many pieces of candy are in a jug. Games for small children include a duck pond and digging into a haystack full of little prizes.
Food and drinks will be available at a cost of 25 cents per item, purchased with tickets available at the fest. Upon arrival and registration, each person will receive one ticket for free.
People will have the opportunity to help judge a chili cook-off by purchasing the use of a bowl — and a ballot — for $1 that may then be used for chili samples made by 15 cooks who have preregistered.
Those attending may also fill out an entry form for a chance to win a Bible, Defilippo said.
The festival will conclude with a bonfire.
Along with being an outreach event, the festival will serve as a launching point for the church's new contemporary Saturday night service, scheduled to begin next weekend. Information on the new service will be provided to people attending today's event.
"We are hoping to bring our neighbors in and say, 'Hey, we're here and we love you. And here's a new opportunity for you,' " the Rev. Deborah Nelson said. "We want them to have some free family fun and at the same time let them know if you're not the kind of person who has Sunday morning available or it's your only day to sleep in, we have another choice for you."
The church is aware that families today are burning the candles at both ends, Nelson said.
"So we thought for some people that Saturday evening would be a much better choice," she said.
The new service will begin at 6 p.m. Saturdays. A free coffee bar will be available at 5:30, where people can mingle while enjoying coffee and snacks.
An important feature of the new service will be its flexibility, Nelson said.
"Sunday morning tends to be more structured and leans toward the traditional with a gospel flair," she explained. "Saturday evening will have a praise team with a full band and will be more of a contemporary, jazz style."
There will be no dress code for the service. The worship style also will be relaxed.
"It's a time where worshippers can be uninhibited," she said. "If they want to raise their hands, they can. If they want to sit through all the music, they can. The focus is really on freedom to worship however they best connect with God. I think that appeals to all ages."
There will be a sermon and a lot of multimedia presentations, Nelson said.
The church's new assistant and youth pastor, Guy House, will help with the service.
"We want to create an atmosphere where families can come in and feel accepted," House said. "We want people to be more engaged. It's a more interactive-type service."
Nelson said they are giving the new service a name.
"The name of the service is actually called 'The Remedy' because we believe Jesus is the cure for all that ails us," she said. "When we close the service, we'll open up two stations in the front of the church for people who want to come and have healing prayer, whether it be physically or emotionally. We have a healing team that's been trained in inner healing and deliverance ministry."
As with the Sunday morning service, a nursery for children up to 3 years old will be available, as well as the Life Kidz children's church.