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Sunday service a traditional family favorite at the Nobles County Fair

Submitted Photo by COLLEEN BENTS 4-H participants lead a Nobles County Fair congregation in song during the 2011 Inspirational Service, a fair tradition for at least two decades.

WORTHINGTON -- From Wednesday through Saturday of "fair week," the Nobles County Fairgrounds is a flurry of activity, and Olson Arena -- the site of most livestock shows -- is often among the busiest spots.

But come Sunday morning, the arena was a place of serenity, with fresh sawdust scattered across its floor, potted plants and flowers lending some refreshing color, and a makeshift wooden cross imparting the reason for the site's transformation: the annual 4-H Inspirational Service.

"The service is one of my favorite things about the fair," said Claire Bents, a 17-year-old member of the Okabena Bees 4-H club who helped coordinate this year's ecumenical service with Worthington High School classmate and fellow long-time 4-H participant Brianna Darling.

"It calms you down and is a nice way to reflect on fair week after the general hustle and bustle of shows, entries and working in the food stands."

Darling, an Elk Tiptopper, assisted Bents in arranging for speakers, readers, flowers, music and song leaders for the service, which, judging from the multi-generational crowd that nearly filled to capacity the arena's bleachers at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, is a fond tradition for many fair-involved families.

"There are probably at least three dozen people who help make the service happen, and we need every one of them," Bents said, who shared coordinating duties last year with Sarah Jacobs. "It's a real community effort."

Art Frame, who retired in 2002 after working since 1976 as a Nobles County extension educator, said the Inspirational Service has been part of the fair's schedule for over 20 years.

"It's Sunday, and with all the people at the fairgrounds, it's a convenient way for the 4-H kids to make it to a church service," noted Frame.

"We get a lot of 4-H and FFA parents, but all the community is welcome," Darling said. "It's a way for families who have livestock here and don't want to leave the campgrounds to still attend a non-denominational church service."

This year, Darling and Bents invited Tim Wrenn of Dundee, who is finishing the ordination process, to present the children's moment.

In preparation for that time, Bents spread a large yellow blanket on the arena's sawdust-covered floor, which was soon filled to capacity with youngsters, much to the delight of the adults in the crowd.

The Rev. James F. Callahan of Worthington's St. Mary's Church was invited to offer the message for the 2011 service, whose theme, taken from Isaiah 55:1, was "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters."

"We assigned readings pertaining to the theme and looked for music that went along with it," Bents explained.

Callahan used the theme in his sermon as well, mentioning his time as a missionary in Liberia, Ethiopia and Rwanda and recalling the misery of the early 1980s drought that brought pain, suffering and death to so many Ethiopians in particular.

During a stint he spent working at an Ethiopian refugee camp in 1984, Callahan found himself questioning why God would allow so much suffering.

After walking through a crowded tent where about 1,000 weak and malnourished babies made nary a sound in their cribs, Callahan cradled one for some time, then was startled by the child's screams after laying the baby back down.

"I went to the camp's small chapel tent, filled with anger and no answers as to why God could let this happen," Callahan said. "A friend I ran across told me the baby was like God's voice screaming out to us to be the hands and feet of Christ, to bring about change in this world, to be His ambassadors in our own communities."

Knowing that such human suffering is occurring in the world again today, Bents and Darling chose the Worthington for Water charity as the recipient of this year's Inspirational Service's offering. Worthington for Water is raising funds to provide clean drinking water in developing countries.

"In the past two years the service's offerings have been given to the Southwest Minnesota Division of the Red Cross and to the Wadena fairgrounds, which were heavily damaged by a tornado," Bents said.

Music is an important part of the Inspirational Service, and Heidi Enninga -- another 4-H veteran -- was the accompanying keyboardist for the several numbers performed by 4-H students or collectively sung.

"I like singing, and I've really enjoyed the musical aspects of the service," Darling said, who at one point sang a duet, "Borning Cry," with Sarah Cham, along with Bridget Enninga playing flute.

After reciting the Lord's Prayer together and joining in a closing song, "River of Glory," the service's attendees spilled out of Olson Arena into the morning sunshine, heading back to their homes or fairground chores with Callahan's parting words perhaps lingering in their minds:

"Go into your communities and be men and women who embrace each other as sisters and brothers," Callahan said. "Think about what difference you will make in your world. Come to the waters."