CUMMING, Ga. — Dreary weather didn’t hamper local church members as they welcomed the community to the annual Cumming Greek Festival.
Rain, wind gusts and chilly temperatures may have been what Mother Nature provided Oct. 19, but the congregation of the Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming offered hospitality that was warm and inviting during the 15th annual festival.
“The main reason ‘why’ for the Cumming Greek Festival is to give an outward display of hospitality from our church’s perspective, the Greek culture as well as the orthodox culture,” festival Chairman Kosta Bozzuto explained. “We want to give that to Forsyth County.”
Preparation began months ago under Bozzuto’s direction.
“Everything about this is a family affair, it’s all run by volunteers,” Bozzuto said.
The festival is planned around the idea of a Greek village, according to David Chapman who was coordinating the infrastructure tents. His family ran the katastima, or general store.
Meanwhile, Christina Papadopoulos and other volunteers were working hard in the parish preparing baklava, kouriembedes and other sweets for sale.
“Volunteers pass on family recipes and teach young kids how to bake and cook,” Chapman said.
Vendors prepped their spaces and figured ways to prevent rain from damaging their goods. Ioannis Papaspyrou, artistic director of Bouzouki Express (the entertainment band) announced “have a nice day and good luck to all of us” as the rain went from drizzle to downpour, and tarps covering his equipment whipped with the wind gusts.
Typically there would be a dance troupe of 30 kids in traditional costume, performing dances of their heritage, Chapman said. Raindrops — instead of dancing feet — were the only things to hit the dance floor that day.
Attendees ignored the weather and tapped their toes while dining on authentic Greek entrees and sipping beverages under tents, as part of the “big family picnic” as Chapman described it.
The first festival had two small tents, and 15 years later, there are more than 20 tents, with 12,000 people expected over the three days, Chapman said.
With growth came subdivisions and many attendees walked from their nearby homes to the event; the church provided shuttles for those parking from a distance.
One thing hasn’t changed over the years. That is the “why” of the festival: to outwardly display love to Forsyth County.
“It’s our way of saying to the community we love, please come have dinner with us,” church priest Fr. Barnabas Powell said. “Please spend some time with us. We want to know you. We want you to know us.”
One common misconception — that you have to be Greek to attend the Greek Orthodox Church — was quickly dismissed by Fr. Barnabas Powell, the church priest.
“I’m not Greek and they made me the priest,” Powell said with a chuckle. “The Greek part of our name is where we’re from. There’s not a lot of Romans in the Roman Catholic Church. That’s where the church is from.”
The congregation is 70 percent convert, so it looks like Forsyth County, Powell said. The church is committed to having a positive influence on the community through its hospitality, openness and outward focus, he said.
That positivity was reflected in the smiling faces of food servers, vendors and festival-goers — despite umbrellas and rain jackets. It was best summed up by Chapman.
“Have dinner with us, you’ll be Greek before you leave.”