By RAY VAN DUSEN

Staff Writer

To cap off the Mantachie Festival, worshippers of all denominations will gather for the Open Air Gospel Festival on Sept. 21.

"Everyone always leaves the festival with a good feeling about the community. It proves everyone can worship together no matter what denomination," said Mantachie Mayor Dan Walton.

The Open Air Gospel Festival began five years ago when two people connected to the Mantachie Fest saw the need to expand it to Sunday.

"They saw they could tie this together for the good of Mantachie. With this festival, people could come worship no matter what race or religion they are," said Tommy Franks, who has been associated with organizing the Mantachie Fest since it began 16 years ago.

The awareness of the gospel festival spread through churches in the Mantachie area to boost its attendance numbers more and more every year.

"We were reluctant at first to ask the preachers to turn out their congregations, but the festival has been really successful," Franks said.

This year's Open Air Gospel Festival begins at 3 p.m. with a few local choirs and gospel groups yet to be named.

The community choir will take the Mantachie City Park stage at 5:30 p.m. for half-an-hour of familiar songs.

"Our choir is made up of mostly older people, and they really enjoy it. It also keeps people in touch and lets them know what is going on in other people's churches. It brings unity," said Marsha Guin, director of the community choir.

The choir usually has 75 to 85 members who meet the Sunday before the festival to prepare.

At 6 p.m., Bro. Terry Paul Graham, preacher at Tombigbee Baptist Church, will give the eveningÕs sermon.

"People of different churches will be able to come together for worship and that is a good way to unite the community," Graham said.

The festival committee rotates from church to church to determine the festival's preacher each year.

The Mantachie First Baptist Church will be hosting Todd West's Crusade immediately following the festival.

"Twenty-two churches from Itawamba and Lee County are taking part in our attempt to bring the community together and reach out to those who are not saved," said Andy Neal, youth pastor at Mantachie Baptist Church.

West, an evangelist from Little Rock, Ark., will be preaching four nights at the Mantachie High School gym.

"Just by seeing people know Christ is our Savior and having them hear the word of the Lord is going to be uplifting," Neal said.

The Open Air Gospel Festival will dismiss at 6:30 p.m. to allow people to attend the 7 p.m. crusade.

"The crusade and the gospel festival are going to be great pluses for each other. There's a lot of people who would be going to the crusade and not to the festival and vice-versa. This way, there will be a bigger turnout for both," Franks said.

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