PAHOKEE—Pahokee residents, church members, and pastors are outraged over an upcoming event at the Lake Okeechobee Resort and Marina. The marina will be hosting its first Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival – a program that organizers hope will become an annual event.
The event will be held June 19-23.
Pastors from various churches in Pahokee attended Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to express disappointment in city leaders for allowing the event to come to Pahokee. The crowd cheered in agreement as, one-by-one, pastors from around the area admonished city officials for allowing festivals containing witchcraft and occult practices into the city.
“I just found out about this today. I am disappointed in the city of Pahokee for allowing this group to come,” said Pastor Brad Smith, Florida Director of Kids for Christ. Smith called the event “an abomination”.
“We don’t need this in our town. Not now. Not ever,” said Rev. Raul Rodriguez, of Church of God Door of Jesus Christ.
His daughter, Ruby Rodriguez said that this came as a shock to her. “We do live in a free country but of all of the cities in Florida, why would they choose Pahokee?” she asked.
The line of speakers from Pahokee, a city with a high concentration of local churches, seemed endless.
“We are opening ourselves up to things we should not, like belly dancing and magic spells,” said Daniel Mondragon. “We do not welcome these things. This is the first annual event, and it should be the last.”
“When I heard about this I immediately began praying,” said Bishop Jared Hines of New Destiny Community Church. “This event is not only detrimental to our city but to our county. What goes on at that lake will affect us all; it will move from the dike and into our homes.”
“We cannot expect our city to survive and prosper if we allow these things,” said Pastor Eugene Babb, of Harlem Church of God.
“God cannot heal our land if we have witches and warlocks violating our community,” said Evangelist Lillian Brown, of Saints on the Move.
Pastor Jorge Chivara of the Hispanic Nazarene Church addressed the commission through an interpreter, calling pastors of all faiths to unite and pray. He invited everyone (pastors and residents) to join his church on Friday, May 31 at 7 p.m.
He plans to discuss the festival and its potential effects on the community.
“We want to begin praying about what’s taking place before the event, during the event, and after the event,” Chivara said.
But not everyone at the meeting agreed.
Jimmy Kellerher pointed out when the commission meeting began everyone stood and pledged to the American flag -- a flag that represents freedom.
“To say teaching kids magic tricks is evil, that’s stretching it,” Kellerher said. “Religious persecution no matter which way is wrong.”
Many residents questioned how city officials could allow the festival to come to town without the citizens’ knowledge and how the marina’s director, Wayne Gray, could be allowed to book such an event.
“I spoke with Mr. Gray regarding the festival and he stated that if any religious organization would like to rent the marina for a festival they are more than welcomed to do so,” said Derrek Moore, Pahokee’s city manager.
Residents quickly began to organize a march in protest of the festival.
“I cannot legally stop Mr. Gray from allowing the event but I also cannot stop the community from protesting it,” said Mayor Colin Walkes.
Wayne Gray defends the event.
“It’s business. I am trying to attract people to the marina and to Pahokee,” he said. “I cannot do that if I begin discriminating just because of someone’s religion. If any of the churches want to hold an event celebrating Jesus, they are more than welcomed to do so and I will market it just as we have with the Solstice.”
The Solstice will bring over a thousand people to the area, which translates into money being spent at many local businesses, Mr. Gray argued.
Mr. Gray listed various events he has booked at the marina.
“I have a book signing of a local man coming up. I recently had a young lady who is trying to get her modeling career off the ground,” he said. “Both were events I donated the facility’s use. If their careers take off because I have helped them, that is something I can be proud of.
“I have a power boat show and a jet ski race coming soon,” he said. “I am trying to do good things and help the community.”
An earlier version of this story reported that Pastor Chivara asked pastors to unite against the festival. Pastor Chivara only asked pastors to unite and pray. A separate group at the meeting asked for a march.