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Good Friday event planned at band shell

(ran East, South, West, Seminole editions)

The idea was born in a breakfast conversation and will culminate Friday in the city's first ecumenical Good Friday service.

At least six churches and two community organizations will gather at noon to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, an important event in Christianity.

"We chose Good Friday because it was a day to show we are Christians united under the cross of Christ and in our diversity of denominations and titles, we're still united under the cross," said Father John Hartnett, pastor of St. Giles Episcopal Church.

Hartnett said he for years has celebrated an ecumenical service with the Rev. John Barham of the First United Methodist Church of Pinellas Park. Over breakfast, they decided to expand the idea to the entire community. The best venue, they felt, was the England Brothers Band Shell in the park behind City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N.

They have called the service Community in Unity. The guest speaker will be John Wilson of WTVT-TV Ch. 13. Passion readings will be performed by city employees (police Officer John McNeil, fire Chief Ken Cramer), business people (Nancy Hodges) and residents (Ron Peters).

Also, A U.S. flag will be presented and God Bless America will be sung.

Although the ministers will come together as part of the service, they will not be active participants. That way, no one religion will be favored, Hartnett said.

"There's no way you could have eight different sermons," he said.

The other scheduled participants are four churches, Believers World, Praise Cathedral, First Baptist Church-Pinellas Park and Pinellas Park Wesleyan; the Haven of Rest Shelter; and the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County.

Quick to support the plans was Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler.

"I've been involved in this almost from the inception," Mischler said. "I am so glad to see this, that different faiths can come together and knock down the barriers."

Mischler was unconcerned about the prospect of holding a religious ceremony on city property. The band shell, he said, "is open to the community."

Groups such as Praise Cathedral, Suncoast Haven of Rest and Calvary Chapel also have used the band shell.

"It's open to anybody regardless of denomination," Mischler said. "If a church wants to use it, they should be able to. They're part of the community."

Mischler agreed that open door policy would have to apply to non-mainstream beliefs such as Wiccans or Druids.

"As long as it's orderly, I don't know how I could deny it," the mayor said.

The city also gives churches a break that private organizations do not get.

The churches do not have to pay the rental fee of $100 per day and $10 an hour for electricity, Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said. They do pay the $25 cleanup charge.

It's city policy, he said, to waive the fees for churches and other nonprofit groups.

Pinellas Park also doesn't charge if the city co-sponsors an activity, Caddell said. In those cases, the city may even chip in money, workers or both. Last weekend's Chili Blaze and Rotary Bluegrass and Art Festival benefited from city sponsorship.

Actually, Caddell said, it's the odd group that gets charged for using the band shell, such as an upcoming private surprise birthday party. That makes sense, Caddell said, because the area will have to be off limits to city residents for the duration of the event.