Perkasie Congrgation Reaches out to Neighborhood with Friday Film Night

by Mary Lou Cummings

Their days are crowded between their children and their jobs, but when Karen Zehr and Sarah Bergin get together, ideas begin to pop. Both members of Perkasie congregation, they share a passion for connecting to the people who live in the neighborhood around the church at Fourth and Chestnut Streets, in downtown Perkasie.

Karen, who lives in a nearby townhouse, knew that young families often look for wholesome, inexpensive weekend entertainment. Could a small congregation sponsor some activity as a gift to the dense, residential neighborhood? Could this be a non-threatening way to get acquainted?

The two women made lots of phone calls to iron out the details, and then proposed a Free Friday Film Night on the final Friday night of June, July, and August. The Church Council hopped on board, and volunteers helped make the event a success.

They choose family movies, two with current national distribution, and all with child-appeal: Hoodwinked was an animated feature that spiraled off from the Little Red Riding Hood story. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was another animated drama that took place on the early Western plains, and the classic version of The Wizard of Oz offered its songs about courage and heart.

A borrowed projector shone the movie through the dark of a summer sky and onto the 30-foot white tarp pinned to the brick wall of a nearby building. Free popcorn popped in the commercial popper as church members and their neighbors opened canvas chairs and got comfortable. Children wandered in with glowstick necklaces, as if going to a parade.

The downside? Weather. Thunder and lightning and rain scattered the movie-goers half-way through the first night. Lowering dark skies kept everyone nervous on the day of the second. Still, the audiences seemed to enjoy the soft night air, the stars, and the atmosphere.

The upside? New friends. A number of neighbors warmly offered to help clean up. One girl has become Sarah’s best friend, and lurks outside on Sunday mornings watching for her. People now know several of us by name, and vice versa, and others, both young and retirement-age tell us they will be watching for next summer’s event. Some kind of long-time barrier has come tumbling down in a small mysterious way; maybe it is an attitude of mistrust of the unknown on both sides.

Sarah and Karen warn others who might be drawn to the idea to purchase licenses to show the movies, even though some accompanying limitations might be irritating. They even got an okay from Perkasie’s Borough. They also prepared a short Power Point presentation about Perkasie Mennonite Church, Mennonites, and an invitation to its activities which ran before the movie. They registered those who attended by offering a drawing for free drinks and snacks. The snacks were sold at very low prices to keep the event family-friendly and the popcorn was free.

The two women operated on a $500 budget, some of which went for wide publicity; they have applied to MMA for a matching grant.

“We learned a lot,” Sarah laughs, “because this was the first time for everything. But the movies proved to be a great ‘equalize.’ People felt comfortable attending because they were national PG movies. In our publicity we also publicized MCC school kits, and invited people to bring supplies along. Some did donate money and supplies for the kits, and that was a good educational component. The crowds were not big, but they seemed to have a great time!