Circus McGurkis Returns With Renewed Focus on Peace and Social Justice

| October 3, 2017


“Circus” Returns Saturday, November 11, 10-4
@ Lakewood Church of Christ, 2601 54th Avenue South, St Pete

By Greg Stemm

The St. Petersburg Quakers recently announced the return of Circus McGurkis after a year’s absense. During that year, organizers refocused and revamped the event with an emphasis on showcasing the not-for-profit organizations who work for peace and social justice in our communities. Affectionately referred to as “Circus”, the community event which has a 45 year history, returns on Saturday, November 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of the event’s new host partner Lakewood United Church of Christ.   Lakewood Church of Christ is located at 2601 54th Avenue South in St. Petersburg.   In a display of how the event is being repositioned it is now dubbed “Circus McGurkis – The Next Generation”.

Circus McGurkis began as a Vietnam War protest in 1971.  Over the years it became a sort of homecoming for people involved in a wide range of social justice issues.  Eventually groups and organizations began setting up booths and tents to help educate those attending about their various missions.  In recent years the event became very large with an estimated attendance at the last event in 2015 of over 5,000.   While Circus has always encouraged vendors who showcase locally produced, homemade or fair trade goods, a criticism of the event in the past few years was that it was becoming too commercial and losing its original focus of showcasing peace and social justice organizations and groups.

Many of the original organizers were Quakers and the event came under the direction of the St. Petersburg Meeting who produced it for decades.  In the past several years the event has grown so large it was becoming difficult for the small congregation in St. Petersburg to handle alone.

This year the Quakers have reached out to Lakewood United Church of Christ, an open and affirming congregation that shares many of the same values they do.  Lakewood has a large parcel of wooded property on the south side of St. Petersburg and has become the host site for the event.   Additionally, Circus is now being coordinated by a steering committee made up of community activists from a variety of organizations including the Real Heros project and sustainability groups.

“Many people were dismayed when Circus McGurkis disappeared last year,” said Lynn Carol Henderson, the chairman and one of the original founders of the event.  “Over nearly five decades Circus became an integral part of the St. Pete community, and there are now people bringing their grandchildren to the event who attended when they were children themselves.   We really wanted to bring the event back but to do it in a way that was manageable, with management that included more community involvement and refocus the event back onto the not-for-profits that were the original showcase.”

Exhibiting for not-for-profit groups is free.   Some commercial vendors will be allowed but only if they partner with a not-for-profit group and agree to give at least 20 percent of their revenue for that day to the partnering group.  Henderson said that way the not-for-profits might actually make money by participating.   Money Henderson says will be reinvested back into the community through the work that the not-for-profit does.

Attendance at Circus McGurkis has always been free.  The event is scheduled to also include food, musical performances, story-telling and fun art projects for children and adults alike.    There are even some unusual performances planned such as belly dancing.   Organizers are encouraging vendors to include interactive activities that will help educate people in a fun and hands on way.

The new organizing committee hopes to scale back the event to a more manageable size.  They anticipate about 50-60 not-for-profit vendors and about a dozen food offerings.  In 2015 there were over 200 vendors, many of which were not the social justice organizations that the event seeks to showcase.  

“While we are reinventing how we produce Circus, our major goal is to reposition the event back to its roots,” said Henderson.  “Circus has always been a place where people could come and at least for one day escape the realities of a harsh world and celebrate peace and social justice with other like minded people.   We look forward to seeing a lot of old friends as we make new ones from the next generation.”

Circus McGurkis – The Next Generation is an alternative peoples’ fair focusing on peace and service to the community with a special focus on activities for children and families of all ages and types.   It features arts, crafts, music, games and ideas which celebrate the creativity and activism that makes our community a more beautiful, loving and just place to live.  Circus McGurkis – The Next Generation is an expression of Quaker belief in the dignity and worth of each person an in the power of love and nonviolence to bring about change.

If you would like more information  about Circus McGurkis – The Next Generation visit





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