We’d just started out trick or treating last night and already my children are wondering, “What about next year.” Jill’s taught the children to figure how days fall on the calendar, and though their father still doesn’t get it and can’t explain leap year, they know, and they know that next year Halloween falls on Wednesday night, and they wondered aloud, before any candy landed in the bottom of their bags, “If we have church that night, how will we trick or treat?” And I was taken back thirty years or so ago, and if I could figure the years and account for leap year, I could tell you what year, but I can still see my mom’s watch on my sister’s arm, that stretchy silver watch that said “I’m a mom” and we twisted it so many times to see the time in various boring situations it eventually broke but tonight Debbie was wearing it because it was Wednesday night and there was church, but in those days there was no consternation about Halloween and Christians boycotting Trick or Treat and turning off their porch lights and Trunk or Treats in the church parking lots, and so we went, the three of us, my brother and sister and me in made up costumes and mom’s makeup, and we watched the time because we had to get back in time for church, and it was the most miserable trick or treat of the year and I still remember pouring out my sack of candy in the utility room and looking for the Paydays and the chocolates and beginning to sort but not having enough time and having to leave the candy in that unsorted and chaotic pile and I thought about it the whole time I was at church as did all the children.
Now I hear of churches, regardless of the night Halloween falls, who have alternative “Festivals” and “Harvests” and I have to smile because some say the whole thing started 2,000 years ago with the Celtics celebrating the time of harvest when the line between life and death is blurred and the spirits wander the world, just like our children dress up as ghosts and wander the neighborhoods, and then the church came along and said, “let’s have our own alterative for this” and they began in the early centuries of the church what is called “All Hallows Day” (Day of holy ones who’ve gone before, or All Saints Day), and the night before became “All Hallows Eve” and eventually Halloween. Through the years Christians kept shifting the emphasis because the “secular” influence kept pushing the occasion back to the spiritual world, and they wanted to make it more calm and less wild, so they began community celebrations that were more wholesome, and then in the twentieth century Christians again realized the culture that spends 2.6 billion dollars, second only to Christmas, had taken over the holiday and began alternatives such as Festivals and Harvest Celebrations, which is funny because that’s the “secular” way all this began, while the “secular” folks today go on calling it “All Hallows Eve” or Halloween, the religious name for the day before today.
Well Sunday, October 29, at Garnett, we had our Fall Festival, as this church has done for two decades, but this year was different in that we made a decision months back that for the first time we would intentionally set a bulls eye for welcoming, taking pictures of, and following up through sending that photo of the children in costume to 250 families. This is a Group Magazine curriculum called “Heroes” but the specific goal of 250 was our own contexualizing of a goal based on how many have come in past years and our desire to do more than just say, “Well, we had a great turn out” and miss the fact that more people have come to our church to visit than on 52 Sundays.
We had more than 700 and we’re currently doing a database to send the photos and tell the families more about our church, our Christmas Eve service, and Vacation Bible School, and Angel Food Program. At the same time, I told the congregation Sunday morning that the leadership of our church encourages all of us to “turn on the porch light” on Halloween, be in the neighborhood, go trick or treating with children or grandchildren, and put yourself in a place to meet and visit with your neighbors.
Halloween is one of those chances for us to experience a “thin place” where God can be present unexpectedly when we pay attention to the opportunities that our culture gives us. This is the day that people open their doors, literally wait by the door, so hungry for their neighbors to care, to ring the doorbell, and while much good is done to gather Christians at churches and it’s a conscience decision that individuals and church leaderships have to make, much is lost when Christians gather on dark nights, failing to be light when they otherwise could be.
So today is All Saints Day, a day when the martyrs are celebrated for their service and deaths for the sake of the call of Christ in their lives to stand against the prevailing culture, and so the church must continue to be light on dark days, to not retreat but advance, and stick out our necks, and in many cases martyrs I respect are ones who were killed by their fellow Christians who thought they were off track, such as anabaptist Felix Manz, who was executed in 1527 by being tied down with weights and thrown from a bridge in Zurich into the River Limmat by the Church/Town Council.
I don’t know if I’ll die for my views on Trick or Treat, or even for what I’m about to say at the end of this post, but it’s more serious than just my childhood desire to sort candy and not go to church. We’re talking here about the loss of our voice and witness in the world today, and we’ve allowed ourselves to float in the backwaters of an insulated Christian culture, rather than seeing opportunities to be part of our cultural stream that needs light and life. So today, I encourage you to begin now–we have a year to plan: next year, let your light and the light of Christ shine.
Cancel Wednesday night church on Halloween 2007 and meet your neighbors.