By Jessica Isaacs
The towns of Boone and Blowing Rock were saturated this weekend with folks who flocked to the High Country to celebrate the Fourth of July. But a few miles out, where the hills open up to a sweeping view of the countryside in western Watauga County, a small church with a big heart threw a happening celebration of its own.
Bethel Baptist Church (an attending congregation of close to 220 each week) has hosted its annual Bethel Blast event every summer for more than a decade. This massive community outreach program brings people in droves to celebrate our nation’s independence with fellowship, food and fun in the park at Bethel Elementary.
The church graciously provides a full barbecue dinner, live music from popular local groups and an outstanding fireworks display, all at no cost for guests.
Senior Pastor Charlie Martin, who came to Bethel with his wife Stephanie nine years ago, said the event began as a fellowship opportunity to which everyone was invited, no matter what.
“The church started this event before I got here, but they wanted to do something that would bring all of the people of the community together,” Martin said. “There are a lot of little country churches out here, so they wanted everyone to be together.
“It is also to provide something that everyone could come to — it’s affordable because it’s free. Even if they don’t have two nickels to rub together, they can come to Bethel Blast to have a delicious meal and an ice-cold tea. Wealthy people and poor people alike can come and everybody’s treated the same.”
Church members worked diligently for months leading up to the holiday, and Saturday’s event went off without a hitch thanks to their careful planning. A group of more than 10 volunteers spent hours and hours by the cookers on Friday as the barbecue slow-cooked over night.
Folks started showing up just before 5 p.m. on Saturday, and the church then served barbecue, baked beans, baked potatoes, coleslaw, cold drinks, watermelon and desserts to more than 3,200 people in just three hours.
Country, bluegrass and gospel groups including Native Son, Amantha Mill, Blue Country and Bethel Road took to the stage to entertain the crowd as families and friends enjoyed the afternoon catching up with their friends and neighbors.
When the evening set in and the sun went down, guests enjoyed an impressive fireworks display that rivals any other in the High Country.
It takes the small church months of hard work to put together an event of this caliber, yet the members continue to offer it for free every year.
“I think there’s a satisfaction in giving — we don’t want to just take from the community, we want to give to the community,” Martin said. “We realize that reflects the heart of the church, and that’s where we want our heart to be.
“At the same time, it’s the joy of getting to meet new friends. Maybe some people will say, ‘you know, I’d like to be part of a church like that.’”
The church also celebrates its own birthday on the Fourth of July, and is now in its 164th year in the small mountain community of Bethel.
In the spirit of welcoming friends new and old, Martin invited all guests to join the congregation for an outdoor service in the park on Sunday morning followed by baptisms in the nearby creek.
“I always tell people,” he said, “if you’re visiting with us today and you don’t have a church home, we would love to have you come visit Bethel to help jumpstart you and get you going to wherever God wants you to be.”
Click here to read more about Bethel Baptist Church.
Here’s an aerial view of the fireworks display at Bethel Blast on Saturday (fireworks begin at 3:40)
Take a look at these photos from Bethel Blast 2015!