Romanian Autumn Picnic at Anthem Community Park in Arizona

The cooler weather is coming back to Arizona, and with it come the snowbirds (a large population group that lives in AZ only for the winter months, attracted by its moderate climate), and the much awaited outdoor activities of the fall. Such was the case on Saturday, October 13, 2012, when Agape Christian Church (http://www.agapearizona.com/agape/) organized the fall outdoor picnic at Anthem Community Park.

Located just outside of the Phoenix metro area, off interstate I-17, Anthem is a master-planned community built by Del Webb in 1999. Although it offers all the services of a big city, the largest part of Anthem was never incorporated – and still holds the aroma of an Arizonian small town – hidden between the northern foothills of the Sonoran desert, right at the base of Daisy Mountain. Elevated slightly higher than Phoenix metro area (approx. 1,800 ft), Anthem enjoys cooler temperatures by five to ten degrees Fahrenheit.

Built exclusively for the use of its residents and their guests, Anthem Community Park covers an area of 63 acres, and includes a variety of facilities designed for active individuals at all ages – 10 miles of walking and hiking trails; catch and release fishing lakes; baseball, soccer, and softball fields; basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts; a skateboard park; and a variety of playgrounds for kids. In addition to the activity oriented features, the park also offers barbecue grills and picnic ramadas. But the highlight of the park is the miniature train ride offered by the Daisy Mountain Railroad.

The participants of the Romanian outdoor picnic enjoyed not only the beautiful weather – cloudless skies and moderate temperatures – but also the complete range of amenities provided by the park. The organizing team – led by Lionel and Dana Rachi – reserved the two main ramadas, and used the built-in barbecue grills to cook fresh ‘mititei’, chicken, and hot dogs for kids. A large variety of side dishes were available to accompany the hot, right-off-the-grill meat, and the essential Romanian element – bread. Home-made deserts were abundant, and coolers full of refreshing drinks were visible everywhere, especially after the automatic water sprinklers went on unexpectedly – that’s when the coolers gained a second use – to prevent the water from splashing the participants.

Besides the main attraction for adults – the mouth watering food – a sense of community and fellowship was evident, starting with the smiles and greetings of those who participated – mainly the Agape Church members and their friends, but also visitors from other Romanian communities in the valley. Designed to enhance and further the fellowship, the Agape event provided an opportunity for the much needed constructive communication among all the attendees of the church, and among any strong community, for that matter. The event opened at 10:00 am, and each family arrived as they were able to, all the way up to about 4 pm, when the overall participation surpassed 200 people, including the kids.

Speaking of kids, they probably enjoyed the park activities the most. In addition to all the amenities offered by the park in a special section designed for kids, which included slides, rock climbing walls, a mini water park, and even a kids’ discovery section (to dig up fossils), the church provided a big ‘fire-truck’ bouncer – the first to be used by the kids at the park. The older kids were even more active by using the half-pipe skateboard park, and the youth used their energy to build rapport by competing on the volleyball field. Typical for the young generation, the Agape youth used the social media to invite and organize a tournament that included their friends from other local churches as well.

After serving lunch, I accompanied my boys on the amazing train ride – a 24-inch gauge miniature railroad, which reminded me of the slow, but picturesque train rides of Romania. Featured during the ride is a trestle across a small lake, a tunnel through a rock outcropping, lush green landscaping, several sparkling water falls, and the eye-catching playground for children. Of course, the kids were not satisfied with a single ride around the park, especially when holding multiple prepaid discounted tickets (thanks to the organizing team) – I was fortunate to ride it multiple times throughout the day. And to complete the adventure, we also witnessed the derailment of a train car during our last ride.

Personally, I enjoyed catching up with my friends at church, and getting to know better some of the attendees that I see very often, but with whom I had not had an opportunity to discuss yet.  But as much as we, as Romanians, enjoy chatting with each other, many of us enjoy being active as well. I was pleasantly surprised by the motivator to this ad-hoc activity, one of the elders of the church – Iosif Ianculovici – who initiated the passing of the ball at first, which ended up in a full blown soccer game. When it comes to our traditional sport, we don’t need a marked field (just the imaginary lines) or even equal size goals – made out of empty trash cans in our case. No need for special sportswear either to differentiate the teams — the players for one of the teams had to simply play shirtless. It was both fun and hilarious to play with players of all levels and all ages, and most importantly without faults – who would want to trip over a 60 year old?

The well-organized event ended late into the night, with a second round of barbeque, long conversations, and board games. The one year old Agape CC (under Pastor Petru Lascau) – has clearly accomplished one of its main meanings with this event – the term Agape or ‘Love feast’ was used for certain religious meals among early Christians – and maybe went a little further. The relationships initiated at this outdoor activity have only exemplified the acute need for fellowship to be created, (and tended to) between the members of the community. It might seem a coincidence that the newly created church of Agape is starting to build strong community at the relatively new Anthem Community Park.

Marius Comarita
Anthem, Arizona

Fotoreporter: Razvan Dihel

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