Kirk Berquam is looking forward to a leisurely outing with his family at the 69th annual Mother Goose Parade, a pre-Thanksgiving tradition in El Cajon since Harry Truman was in the White House.
It is now one of the biggest parades on the West Coast, parade organizers are hoping a switch from Sunday to Saturday will increase its numbers even more. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. Nov. 21. It is a significant change for the parade, which has historically been held the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Berquam, pastor of Harvest Time Assembly of God Church, and many of his El Cajon peers are applauding the move.
“We are rejoicing,” Berquam said. “It’s just great news all the way around. All the church people can participate and go without feeling guilty.”
His church, mostly seniors, is located two blocks south of the parade route.
Although Mother Goose has been held on Sundays for years, the peaceful co-existence was challenged in 2012 when the parade changed its start time from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m.
“It literally kept a lot of people from coming out to participate,” Berquam said.
Although the afternoon start time created some logistical problems for parishioners trying to navigate around street closures while trying to get to church, it was a problem pastors were willing to work with. The morning start time, however, only served to exacerbate the parking and transportation issues. Members were then faced with the dilemma of whether to miss church to attend the family-oriented event.
“Kids should be in church on Sunday,” said the Rev. Dave Peterson, adding that the Rose Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are never held on Sundays.
Peterson, former pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, was one of several pastors who contacted the Mother Goose Parade Association about the time change.
So did Kevin Miller, administrative pastor at Foothills Community Church, one of the city’s mega churches.
“When they shifted it over to Sunday morning it was, ‘Come on guys, let’s work together.’”
It was during that initial contact with the association that Miller said he realized the organizers could probably use some help, so he volunteered to serve on the Mother Goose committee, assisting with a fashion show fundraiser. Miller said he explained to organizers that if they avoided a time conflict with the churches it would likely benefit the parade association by opening up a large volunteer pool from church members.
“One thing that Foothills has, which a lot of churches have, is we’ve got people. Last year they called our bluff,” he said, adding that the time was switched back to the afternoon. “It was still in a time slot that had some issues.”
This year, Mother Goose officials announced that the parade would move from Sunday to Saturday. The start time is back at 10 a.m.
No one from the association was available for comment on the day change.
The parade will also be in its second year of a route change. The parade now starts at Ballantyne and Main, heads west to Johnson Avenue, where it turns right, heading north and ending at the bridge before Parkway Plaza, the city’s regional mall.
Miller said his congregation produced at least 40 volunteers last year and leadership was working to double that number this year.
“It seemed to have some impact,” he said. “We’re working to develop a network of churches to help support something that is really important to the community.”
A gift to the children
The Mother Goose parade was the brainchild of Thomas Wigton Jr., who rallied local businessmen to sponsor the event as a gift to the children. The first parade, drawing 25,000 spectators, was held on a Friday night before later switching to Saturdays. But as the popularity of the parade grew, drawing well in excess of 250,000 people, Mother Goose and her entourage were moved to Sundays when most Main Street businesses were closed.
“It’s really a return to the parade’s roots,” said Wayne Clark, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of El Cajon.
His church, located on a plaza a stone’s throw from Main Street, was among the most impacted of the churches. When the time was changed to 10 a.m., his congregation moved their Sunday worship services on Mother Goose weekend to Friday night.
“There is a lot of impact for the churches in the area,” he said.
First Baptist will keep the Friday night service this year to allow the completion of carpet installation, but it plans on reverting to its regular Sunday time next year.
“One of the realities of life is that having it on Sunday was less impactful because most businesses were closed,” he said. “But now the impact is about the same, whether it’s on a Saturday or a Sunday, but it does make an impact on the folks that use Sunday mornings for church.”
An outreach tool
Peterson, who now serves as visitation pastor at Christ Lutheran in La Mesa, admits he is thrilled about the witnessing opportunities the day change could provide for the church community.
“That’s a real possibility to get people involved and, like what we did before, to maybe have a float.”
Years ago, while Peterson was still at St. John’s, the congregation entered its own float featuring the Pepper Tree Gospel Choir, named for a majestic old specimen on the church property. The float, he boasted, won first place in its division. Because the parade time didn’t conflict with Sunday services, many in the congregation were able to attend.
Whether assisting with a high-profile float or working behind the scenes, Miller said the parade offers Christians a prime opportunity to live out their faith through service.
“Whenever churches rub elbows with the community for a worthy cause, something that benefit our community, it gives us a chance to roll up our sleeves and work alongside people who may not have any relationship with Jesus,” the Foothills administrator said. “We get to know each other, you get to know the character of someone.”
He said it’s also a perfect opportunity to erode many negative, preconceived stereotypes people may have of Christians. He calls it myth-busting.
“That gets chipped away, that gets destroyed by individuals working out in the community,” Miller said.
“It’s just getting a better understanding of the church and the role it serves. We want to lead and serve. Let’s be visible. Let’s play well with others and change people’s minds.”
Changing of minds, Peterson agreed, can be a really good thing.
“I think enough people were being heard and they listened,” he said of the association. “That’s wonderful. I think it’s a great sign. I think God will bless it.”
If you go:
What: 69th annual Mother Goose Parade
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21
Where: Starts at Ballantyne and Main, heads east to Johnson Ave., then right to the bridge before Parkway Plaza
What: Floats, marching bands, classic cars, drill teams, horses, dignitaries, clowns
Theme: Super Heroes
Info: www.mgpelcajon.com or call (619) 445-4613