Gospel music echoed Sunday morning in Lenoir City Park as North Lenoir Church held its annual picnic for fellowship and fun.

The picnic has served as a tradition for about a decade in which members of the congregation gather beside the water at shelters No. 2 and 3, grill out, set up lawn chairs and worship before eating lunch and playing cornhole. Members brought a variety of food, including hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and cookies.

“It is an opportunity for our church to fellowship outside the church building and celebrate our freedom and an opportunity to get out and enjoy God’s creation,” the Rev. David Bandy, North Lenoir Church pastor, said.

The picnic offers the chance for visitors to see church members as “real people.” Bandy also thought it was good to simply get out of the house for quality time together.

“It just shows everybody that we’re all real people with everyday struggles and it kind of removes some of the obstacles that people have in their mind of preconceived notions of church. We’re just all people,” he said.

The service was about 30-45 minutes and followed up by fellowship, Bandy said. He wanted his message Sunday to simply be a call to prayer.

“A call to prayer for our nation, for those that have been affected by the coronavirus,” he said. “Just a call to prayer and deeper than that a call to intercession.”

Those present have attended anywhere from decades to only a few years.

Juanita Payne and her brother, Michael Payne, have called North Lenoir home for more than 20 years. They saw the picnic as a good opportunity to reach passersby and those on the water.

“It’s a social gathering for just getting the whole families together because some families can’t — not all of them are able to come to church due to different things going on in their family, so this is a gathering and we’re just celebrating besides the Fourth we’re celebrating on today the Lord’s day,” Juanita said. “... When we start the music up and have our praise and worship, the boats out there, they hear it and others passing by. We’ve actually had several families stop and listen and they’ve actually sat further back and stuff and come up and talked with us afterwards.”

Edward Spain has been with the church since 2014.

“I went to a counseling appointment and counselor told me, he said, ‘I need you to do two things for me.’ He said, ‘I want you to get into church and quit smoking’,” Spain said. “I prayed, I said, ‘Lord, you send me to church where I can feel your spirit.’ He sent me to North Lenoir and within a month’s time God delivered me to quit smoking without no cravings and been going to church ever since.”

Spain played guitar Sunday. He said the picnic’s atmosphere has always been “awesome.”

“That’s the best thing I can say is awesome because it’s when you feel the spirit of the Lord there’s liberty,” Spain said.