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story.lead_photo.caption <p>Democrat photo/Danisha Hogue</p><p>Moniteau County residents attended the vesper service Sunday evening to pray for the Moniteau County Fair week. The crowd heard a selection of religious songs from the California Community Band opening the evening.</p>

Moniteau County residents attended the annual vesper service Sunday evening. The event is put together by the California Ministerial Alliance ahead of the Moniteau County Fair.

Pastor Frank Hensley, of New Life Christian Center and president of the organization, said he wants Moniteau County residents to focus on grace and kindness throughout the fair week and beyond.

"It's not part of our natural, worldly, animal nature to be kind — it does take some discipline," Hensley said.

After a few religious and patriotic selections from the California Community Band, the vesper, or evening of prayer, service kicked-off, as the temperature dropped and a breeze swept through the grandstands.

Last year, about 220 guests showed up, Hensley said. About 150 residents attended Sunday. The California Ministerial Alliance organizes the service to gather the community and pray for the week ahead.

Becky Bloch said she enjoys hearing the band play and that prayer is always needed.

"The prayer group is a good way to start off the fair week," Bloch said.

Sitting with her, Mary Jo Garnett, of California, said it helps set the tone for the week.

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The Rev. Russell Cobb, of United Church of Christ of California, prayed the week would be one of praise and joy for everyone who attends. Ministers prayed for the organizers and residents to keep the pattern of kindness.

In his message, Hensley said God is the perfect example of kindness.

"God is absolute kindness," Hensley said. "He's not some bully ready to pound us with his gavel of judgment the moment we do something wrong."

Although not everyone agrees with morality, promoting more kindness can create better experiences together, he added.

"The message of grace and kindness, our culture today especially needs this message," Hensley said. "The kindness of our God, that's the model that we follow after."

He added that kindness can also be shared through the alliances' partnership with the California School District on a K-12 anti-bullying program called Rachel's Challenge.

Rachel Scott died April 20, 1999, during the Colorado Columbine High School shooting. The ministerial alliance is seeking sponsors to bring the program back.

"We started this five years ago but we have another generation of high schoolers coming in," Hensley said. "It's a secular program and yet we know Jesus exemplifies kindness."

Before Scott died, she wrote in journals about showing kindness and compassion to others, he added.

California preschool teacher Kimberly Scheidt said it's great when the community supports the schools. In her classes, she teaches students to love one another but thinks it needs to continue through middle and high school. She has two children in elementary school and is glad the program will return.

"Kids need all the positive encouragement and positive experiences they can get," Scheidt said.

The program will kick-off with a community event 7 p.m. Sept. 4 at the Performing Arts Center, 1501 W. Buchanan St.

Ministerial alliance holds joint services throughout the year including Thanksgiving Day and high school baccalaureate. On Sunday, the service raised $1,364.70.

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