Public officials and church groups from all over the state congregated in Elkins City Park Thursday to celebrate the nation's birthday through music, prayer and family friendly activities during the fifth annual God and Country Rally, sponsored by the West Virginia Patriots.
The event included patriotic songs, gospel music, political speeches, colonial dress and garb, a dunking booth and free watermelon. Musical guests included Jim and Ann Blankenship and the Singing Patriots.
Some of the guest speakers included Elkins Mayor Van Broughton, former state senator Steve Harrison, a representative from Shelley Moore Capito's administration, Stephen Pyle from the Church of God of Prophecy in Elkins, Phil Hudok, Mike House, Blaine McVicker and many others.
"We're thankful and blessed for this beautiful weather this July Fourth," Broughton said. "It's great that everybody can have a chance to get together and celebrate one nation under God. I'm happy to see so many people standing united to honor our country and our community."
Mike House, one of the organizers of the event, explained that West Virginia Patriots started out as part of the Tea Party, but then morphed into its own group.
"America is a Judeo-Christian nation and the Constitution is being destroyed everyday," House said. "We are calling our nation back to God. This event is a way for us to encourage Christians to participate in the political process, either by running or holding a political office or by registering to vote."
Many local organizations and church groups set up booths and provided information about their respective services. Phil Hudok manned a booth representing the Constitution Party, which according to Hudok is a political party devoted to "putting Jesus first."
"We are here to celebrate the church and the Constitution as our founding fathers intended it," Hudok explained. "Religion dictates my politics."
Another booth was sponsored by Celebrate Recovery, a church-oriented group that helps people suffering from addiction through Biblical teachings.
"We help people recover and overcome their addictions through the beatitudes taught in scripture," said Dale Shockey, one of the representatives of Celebrate Recovery.
Celebrate Recovery uses a 12-step program that helps people struggling with all types of addiction, from alcoholism and drug addiction to gambling, depression, fear and sexual abuse.
Local reactions to the God and Country Rally were generally positive.
"I think it's great," said Darlene Bennett. "I'm a proud Christian and I'm having fun enjoying the music and seeing what God can do."
"This is a great way for people to embrace patriotism," said Dorothy Poore. "God is the author of liberty."