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COMMENTARY: Should UM churches ‘celebrate’ Halloween? Here’s one suggestion! Shannon Vowell, Oct 29, 2009
By Shannon Vowell Special Contributor
Here’s a recipe for Halloween: Take ancient superstitions from the Druids and Celts about avoiding or placating evil spirits who run rampant in the world for one terrible night a year. Include divination and animal sacrifice.
Add an Irish tradition about a villain so wicked he’s rejected even by Satan and is forced to take comfort in a candle stuck in a rotten turnip (the “Jack” in jack o’ lantern).
Sprinkle in some pagan Roman influence (the holiday Feralia, which commemorated the passing of the dead, and the holiday Pomona, which honored the goddess of fruit and trees and brought “bobbing for apples” to the mix).
Blend well. Bake for a millennia and a half or so. Serve in the dark, garnished with witches, vampire bats, spiders and deliberate attempts to terrify. Don’t forget to include quantities of candy sufficient to induce headaches and vomiting.
Let’s be frank. Is there anything wholesome in this recipe? Not really.
Is there anything holy? Despite the best efforts of the church since Pope Boniface in the 7th century to draw focus and insert a little Christ into the nightmare, not really. The truth is that there is nothing holy at all about Halloween.
And yet, I believe that Halloween, in its modern American and mostly oblivious form, represents a unique opportunity for churches.
Why? There are several reasons.
Halloween is one of the few times a year when Americans are actually invested in participating in something collective.
Halloween is one of the few times a year when parents want something for their children that cannot be purchased or created electronically: a safe community.
And Halloween is the only time in the year when grown-ups (including pastors) have a mandate to dress down by dressing up: Costumes can catalyze the ultimate, level playing field.
Hosting a neighborhood event—a fall festival or “trunk or treat,” for example—gives churches the opportunity to use Halloween as an evangelistic tool. And such hospitality, done right, lets the church shine in a tangibly warm and welcoming way as that which is “in the world but not of the world.”
Clearly, how a church does Halloween is as important as whether a church does Halloween. Scary masks, séance-like “fun-houses” or greeters sporting suggestive apparel will pretty much guarantee that visitors won’t be back for worship.
But if churches nix the witches and ghosts and substitute games, activities and lots of love, then the truth of the gospel will supercede the context of the excuse for the party, because it’s just way more compelling.
And it’s much easier to invite people to come and see what else Christ has for them when they’ve already tasted and seen something sweet and joyful.
Ask yourself: Is there any other time when a church can anticipate that minimal advertising will yield an eager flock of un-churched comers waiting impatiently to be let into the building?
Maybe this un-holiest of holidays represents a holy obligation and divine opportunity. And maybe the trick is to make sure we treat Halloween accordingly.