UPDATE: On July 11, Detour Ministries announced that this year’s Clark County All-Church Picnic has been canceled.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Unless the National Park Service (NPS) is soon persuaded to change its mind by top elected officials and others, this month’s fourth annual Clark County All-Church Picnic might not take place.
Just as this issue of Christian News Northwest went to press — including with an ad on Page 2 promoting the popular free-admission event — local media learned that the federal agency had unexpectedly denied use of the Pearson Air Museum at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The museum had served as site each year for the event sponsored by Detour Ministries. An estimated 3,000 people representing scores of churches attended last year.
According to The Columbian newspaper, the agency recently denied permits for the July 29 afternoon picnic as well as for a youth soccer festival last month. It contended that noise levels and the nature of children’s activities were inappropriate for the historic park.
Quick to oppose the decision was U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. The local congresswoman wrote to Fort Vancouver Superintendent Tracy Fortmann that the ruling was “based on misinformation and inconsistenceies.”
“Your denial of the All Church Picnic … was particularly disappointing and seemingly unwarranted,” Herrera Beutler wrote. She noted that a recent Get Outdoors Day event sponsored by the park included activities “nearly identical” to the church picnic’s planned activities.
The congresswoman added that it is appropriate under National Park Service policy to have a church-related event at the federal site. “On its website, the (Park Service) mission statement commits to ‘celebrating local heritage.’ Community churches have played a role in the fort’s history from the very beginning. The region’s first open-air sermon was preached from Fort Vancouver. It is for these and other reasons that the (Fort Vancouver National Historic) Trust, which operates the air museum, supports having the event on the museum grounds. Please respect its position as a partner in these decisions.”
Ryan Hurley, president of Detour Ministries, noted that U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Elson Strahan of the Fort Vancouver Trust all agree with Herrera Beutler that the picnic should be allowed to proceed.
“We are, of course, disappointed by the NPS response, but hope to work with NPS to address the concerns they have,” said Hurley. “To our knowledge we have never had one complaint about the event.”
Hurley said no alternate sites are being pursued, as there is not sufficient time to plan for another location.
The picnic was promoted last month to hundreds of local pastors at a luncheon featuring Christian author Eugene Peterson. During the June 14 luncheon at the Heathman Lodge, Peterson — best known for his The Message translation of the Bible — shared insights from his book The Jesus Way. In the book, Peterson draws from the Old Testament a series of cautionary tales for today’s church, which he says is too often trying to achieve “Jesus’ goals” independently of walking the Jesus Way.
The luncheon also sought to encourage the county’s pastors in their daily work and promote unity among churches. In his opening remarks, Hurley noted that Satan’s biggest fear is such unity. Hurley urged churches to work together to bring about change.
For the latest word on the picnic, go to www.allchurchpicnic.com.