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PHOTO: Lynne and Tony McAlister (lower left) join other attendees at Sunday morning’s worship service at the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. / Photos by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

Before they fanned out to catch favorite acts such as Wynonna & The Big Noise, Better Than Ezra and the finale, Foo Fighters, a good number of attendees at Sunday’s Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival got religion.

In what could best be described as an old-fashioned tent revival, the 5-year-old festival at the Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin held its first worship service. Inside the tent of the Americana Music Triangle Experience, the packed crowd heard some preaching, a testimonial and some spirited — and spiritual — music.

“The Pilgrimage people have been fantastic, and their desire to see something like this happen is wonderful,” said Rolling Hills Community Church Pastor Jeff Simmons, who led the mid-morning service. “Church and faith are so much a part of our Franklin community, so to bring in a worship service was probably … it was the missing element for the festival. So for us to be able to do that together has been a real treat.”

Simmons led a couple of prayers and delivered a short sermon, and sat with Kathie Lee Gifford as the former talk show host from the Live with Regis and Kathie Lee show testified to her faith in Christ. Gifford, the widow of former NFL star and TV football announcer Frank Gifford, moved to Franklin a year ago.

“I was searching for joy in my life,” she told the congregation. “The Lord led me here.”

That was the same motivation that brought Laura and Dan Piraino to Williamson County from their home in Wilmington, Del. They moved to Franklin just two weeks ago, and sat happily on the front pew at Sunday’s service.

“The Lord spoke to Dan’s heart that we would come to Franklin,” Laura Piraino said. “It took me a little bit longer to make the transition, but about two weeks ago we made the move here and we’re excited to be a part of what God is doing in Franklin.

“I was attracted to the people. I feel the genuine spirit of the people here. They’re very welcoming and non-competitive. I think it’s a very loving community.”

Church included music from the gospel group Point of Grace and from singer-songwriter Ashley Cleveland and her band. The session that followed the worship service featured a set from the gospel quartet The Fairfield Four.

“I can’t believe that many festivals open with a service on Sundays,” said Lynne McAlister, former president of the Downtown Franklin Association who was in attendance with her husband, Tony McAlister. “It’s a brilliant idea. I’m awfully proud, excited and it made me tear up. That’s the most you could ask for out of church.

“I think it says a lot about the community,” she added. “It also shows it’s OK to step out and do something a little different for Jesus. People respond, and I think it’s great.”

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