Separation of church and state is as old as America itself, but for a few hours Thursday afternoon, God and country were one. • Residents from central Florida gathered at Florida Classic Park, off U.S. 98 west of Interstate 75, to celebrate Freedom Fest, an event commemorating Independence Day with games, Christian music and fellowship. • Thursday was the first time Hernando County hosted the festival.
The previous two years, the event was held in Pinellas Park, but event planner Joe Santerelli, senior pastor at Hillside Community Baptist Church and President of the Brooksville Ministerial Association, said the festival ran out of space at its old location.
He was glad the "faith-based family event" came to Brooksville and that people got a chance to honor military veterans. "We think they deserve to be honored," Santerelli said.
At Florida Classic Park, thousands of people came to take in the festivities.
Some, like Dave Darling of Lecanto, were there to listen to the music, which included Matthew West, a popular Christian musician. Others, like Darling's daughter Macailla came for the fireworks at the end of the night.
Beyond melodies and pyrotechnics, visitors could watch or play in a game of flag football or moon walk joust, a version of the contest made popular by the TV show American Gladiators.
"It seems like there's a lot of good fun for the kids," said Darling as he and Macailla walked across the grounds of the sprawling festival.
Darling heard about Freedom Fest on the radio, but most in attendance were there with other members of their churches.
Sandy Stevens of St. Petersburg arrived more than an hour early to get a good seat for the festival. Though she lives close to Pinellas Park, where the festival used to be, Thursday was the first time she went.
She came to support her church, Cross Pointe Baptist Church in Clearwater, and looked forward to West's performance and the fireworks — the first time she had seen fireworks in a long time.
"Usually I have to work," she said.
Today, she's working.
Michael Sanserino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1430.