From organic coffee to 'holy hardware,' exhibit hall has something for everyone

July 8, 2009

With a flurry of drums and gongs, the Korean Drummer Corps of St. James School in Los Angeles launched the opening of the General Convention Exhibit Hall, where visitors can browse the aisles for everything from chalices to fair trade coffee. Led by drum corps director James Choi, 13 costumed youngsters marched through the hall playing Korean instruments representing the sounds of thunder, rain, wind and clouds. "It's fun because we learn the Korean culture from a long time ago," said Rachel Lee, 10, who played the jangoo drum. "It's like you're playing history." For kindergartener Alexander Choi, the attraction of the gong-like kangari is that "it's very loud." A black Labrador mobility-assistance dog named "Emily" wasn't sure what to make of the noise. "She wasn't afraid. She was just really curious," said her trainer, Deacon Aileen Aidnik, assistant director of the St. Francis service dog training center in Fair Oaks, Calif. Emily will be assigned soon to a disabled veteran, Aidnik said. Providing music of a different sort, Faith Alive President Tom Riley stood in his booth, serenading the hall with hymns on his saxophone. While at the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis, he recalled, "I just said, 'I wish there was more of a spiritual aura in the Exhibit Hall.'" He rented a sax and started playing; he liked the instrument so much, he bought it at the end of convention and has brought it to every one since. "For the most part, it's had good reception." Faith Alive, a renewal lay witness weekend program, is among many ministries, advocacy groups, services, seminaries, camps and other organizations exhibiting in the hall. Vendors range from book publishers to sellers of food, ethnic handicrafts, vestments and church-related souvenirs. Artisan Marietta Sophie Louden, owner of Bench Designs, walked a visitor through the process of creating hand-crafted worship items, or "holy hardware." Pointing to a silver chalice, she said, "People don't realize that this metal is teased up into the shape you see through about 25 gazillion hammer blows." Her display includes the crozier she created for Bishop Dabney Smith of the Diocese of Southwest Florida with cloisonné renditions of the diocesan seal. Stopping by the booth, Smith pointed to the inscription of the diocese's current and past bishops on the crozier, with room to add the next five. It reminds him, he said, that "I carry it; I don't own it." Spokane Deputy Carolyn Terry lost little time in beginning her shopping. "I'm a bookaholic," she admitted. The Exhibit Hall "is always a fun place to wander around and learn things and see things," she said. Those needing a little pick-me-up while browsing, meanwhile, can stop by the Episcopal Relief and Development booth to try the new Bishops Blend line of teas as well as the Bishops Blend coffees. Like the coffees, the organic Earl Grey and organic Moroccan mint teas are fair-trade products, providing a living wage to the farmers that grow them, said John Hollister, director of sales for Pura Vida Coffee, which rebates part of its sales supports to ERD's ministries. Even with a sagging economy, Episcopalians still go shopping. "We've been very fortunate this year in this down economy," said Exhibit Manager Artie Meyer. While some big trade shows have shrunk 30 to 40 percent, this year's General Convention Exhibit Hall is about 3 percent smaller than in 2006, he said. "That's pretty insignificant in the show business." "We've been growing 3 percent steadily every [convention] for about six conventions," he added. This year's show encompasses about 300 10-foot by 10-foot booths filling nearly 30,000 square feet, representing more than 160 exhibitors, he said. When the hall opened for business, they had "the biggest crowd we've ever had." And it apparently was a hungry crowd. Based on projections three years ago, exhibit planners projected a 15 percent increase in show size and expanded the restaurant area 30 to 35 percent to accommodate a bigger crowd. "It actually looks like we're going to get the increased crowd if today is any indication," he said July 7. "I couldn't be happier. My life is very peaceful when there's a good crowd for a show." Exhibit hall setup began July 5, said Mark McComb, freight foreman. Exhibitors' freight arrived via trailer (including one from the Episcopal Church Center in New York), UPS, Fed-Ex and personal vehicle, all to be unloaded by McComb's Teamsters. He, electrical foreman Dan Gatlin, usage foreman Pat Kreitner and decorators foreman Agustin Covarrubais estimated some of the equipment and supplies required to set up and run the Exhibit Hall:• two boom lifts and a scissor lift for hanging signs, four fork lifts, plus pallet jacks and electric trucks • 20 ladders• 2,000 tables• 800 table skirts• 2,000 chairs for the Exhibit Hall and House of Deputies• 150 steno chairs at the service and registration counters• Two truckloads of specialty furniture, such as couches• 25 four-by-eight tack boards• 50 chrome stancheons• 50 rolls of ¼-inch tape• 160 rolls of double-sided tape• 20 rolls of clear tape• 2,100 amps of electricity, or enough to power 21 to 22 homes on full power• 5,000 feet of electrical cable

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