Christians of many different denominations gathered Sunday in Hays’ Municipal Park to worship together.

Praise in the Park — a non-denominational worship service — was made possible through the partnership of the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance and the Downtown Hays Development Corp., and the service officially kicked off Ellis County’s and the City of Hays’ 150th anniversary celebrations of the day.

As patrons entered the park and took their seats before the start of the service, a band comprised of members of several different churches in the community led the crowd in worship music.

“Welcome to Praise in the Park — a celebration of God’s providence in the lives of the citizens of Hays for 150 years,” said Dave Buller, associate pastor at North Oak Community Church. “When I think of the history of Hays, I’m always just amazed at what it would have taken and the courage it would have taken to settle in the middle of nowhere with the vision to build a community. As a native of Hays, I’m proud to call Hays home ... and I’m proud to be a citizen of Hays because of the people. I know I can count on the people of Hays. And I realize that’s true because at the heart of Hays and what this community is built on, and how the generations of people could survive and thrive on the plains of Kansas is because of an unrelenting faith in Jesus Christ.”

Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council, read a historical narrative of the churches of Hays and Ellis County.

“The early days of Hays were often very wild and very dangerous,” she said. “There being no formal churches, sermons were occasionally delivered by traveling ministers at various sites. In fact, the first Methodist church services were held in the Tommy Drum Saloon where a cloth was thrown over the bar, and as soon as a final benediction was spoken, the cloth ripped away and the bar raucously opened again.”

Meder said Ellis County is now home to more 30 religious congregations.

Following Meder’s account of the rise of the county’s churches, the prayer service continued.

“I think it’s great that the first church services in Hays started in a bar,” said Buller. “That’s awesome. Lord, would you raise up another church? Would you raise up more churches that would minister to those in the bars? Would you raise up churches here in our city that would minister to those at Fort Hays State? Would you raise up churches that would minister to our communities and neighborhoods and the people who don’t know you? Would you raise up churches with people and Christians who would minister to those that are infirm at the hospital? Would you raise up churches at all these different places in our community where people need hope and need encouragement and need help? We are longing for that day, Lord, and now we stand and worship you, because you are a good God.”

The band led the crowd in three worship songs before readings and prayers were offered by members of various churches.

Gary Simon, Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church pastor, spoke to Hays’ history, and future in his prayer.

“You are the God of our history, you are the God of our heritage,” Simon said. “You are the God of our past, you are the God of our present, and you are the God who will BE as we move forward. You are the beginning and the are the God of Hays, you are the God of Kansas, and to you there is no compare.”

Following the service, Sara Bloom, executive director of the DHDC, and Melissa Dixon, executive director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, took the stage for some announcements and to introduce different organizations.

Marla Matkin, with Historic Fort Hays, spoke about the committee’s plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary and detailed the different events that have already taken place this year as well as events that are coming up this fall.

Several city and county commissioners spoke to the crowd before Ellis County Commissioner Barbara Wasinger and Mayor Shaun Musil read proclamations recognizing Sunday, July 23, 2017, as Sesquicentennial Celebration Day.

Dixon, on behalf of Hays and the CVB, presented reproductions of Dennis Schiel’s mural — which is on the side of the Fox Pavilion — to representatives of Historic Fort Hays, the city and the county.

Following the proclamations, the celebrations began with free barbecue and cake for 750 guests. The barbecue portion was sponsored by the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau. Then, citizens and their children enjoyed bouncy houses, balloon animals, airbrush tattoos and snow cones — which were all provided free to the community.