by Adam Klawonn
roundup reporter intern
Local church leaders will usher in the new year in a variety of interesting ways today, despite millennium forecasts ranging from a gloomy last hurrah to peaceful harmony.
Plans were finalized Tuesday for what members of the Payson Ministerial Fellowship are calling a "once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone to come together in prayer."
The celebration will be held at the Rim Country Middle School gym and will include country music from the Styer family, the praise and worship tones of New Existence, and former radio personality Randy Roberson, who will serve as master of ceremonies.
"We definitely have a more positive view of Y2K," Roberson said. "We're not a doom-and-gloom group. We just want to peacefully worship as we move into the future."
The all-day event also will feature the Christian comedy group ACTS, which will perform a few skits before participants honor highly decorated retired Army Sgt. Major Bill Spry and other veterans and public servants. The festivities will begin at 9 a.m. and services will begin at about 9 p.m., with reports from the International dateline and satellite coverage from New York.
Officials from the Fellowship's 15 churches are uncertain how many people will turn out for the celebration, but they think people will find it hard to pass up the free refreshments and child care.
Not all participating groups, however, are optimistic about what the new year will bring.
Jeri Mertes, coordinator for the Y2K Preparedness Group at Payson Christian Church, said that many cultures have produced dire predictions for the year 2000, and recent wars and droughts indicate that the world should prepare for "seven years of biblical tribulation.
"Many Christians believe in Armageddon, but some refuse to think about it," she said. "A lot are skeptical, but we really believe this is the time where something catastrophic will happen."
But Mertes' dismal Y2K outlook is in the minority among Payson's spiritual centers.
Sharry Lien, council president for Mount Cross Lutheran Church, said church leaders have assured members that the sky won't fall when the ball drops New Year's Day.
Rev. Alan Field of Mount Cross will hold services at 5 a.m. Dec. 31 and again at 2:30 p.m. as the new millennium dawns in Jerusalem.
"I don't think anyone should be thinking about a catastrophe," Lien said. "It is simply a milestone in history, and time will go on as it is."
Although the Church of Spiritual Awareness is not involved in the Ministerial Fellowship celebration, it has developed its own uplifting New Year's agenda.
The focus of the church is raising spiritual consciousness through harnessing positive energy, and church members plan to hold an alternative worship ceremony via worldwide meditation.
Annella Henson, president of the church's board of directors, said she harbors no fear for the new millennium. She said she thinks the new year will bring only peace and harmony.
"Five minutes before midnight, people everywhere will be in prayer," Henson said. "They can join us in raising the awareness of the world and send out more energy into the universe. All are welcome."
In addition, residents of Mesa del Caballo, Wonder Valley and Freedom Acres are invited to attend a Christmas tree bonfire at the Mesa del Community Center. Pastor Ted Leonard from Rim Christian Church will lead the group in prayer.
Mesa del Fire Chief Frank Hansen said the bonfire will help the fire department during the holidays as well as break in the new year.
"The purpose of it is to reduce the fire danger as these trees dry out and save some space in the landfills," he said. "We can also bring the community together for a couple of hours. Everyone loves a bonfire."
The Mesa del celebration will begin Jan. 1 at 4 p.m. Christmas trees can be dropped off at the Mesa del Fire Department any time before the bonfire.