The church has an interesting relationship with Halloween. As a kid, I was taught that celebrating Halloween is a pagan ritual; good Christians should stay far way. As I've grown older, I've been part of churches that want to reach families during this season. We've pursued this desire by providing Christianized version of Halloween, an alternative place to get candy and to have fun that's safely within the church.
The trouble with both of these approaches is that they too often become ways the church avoids outsiders. Now I affirm that many churches are able to host events festival/harvest parties or egg hunts at Easter that welcome neighbors and friends who have not previously engaged the church. I don't think these events are necessarily wrong. But I wonder how we're helping the families in our church's to engage their neighbors.
Last week at the barbershop, I asked my barber if he had plans for Halloween. He responded, "Not really. We'll hang out and give away candy at my house, but we'll probably only have about ten kids come to the door." This surprised me, because we have nearly four hundred kids out for candy in my neighborhood. So I asked, “Why do you believe that only ten kids come to your house?" His response was, “I don't know. I guess because they go to other neighborhoods or because they go to churches that host Trunk or Treats.” His response caught me a little off guard. I am not sure how my barber views Christianity. But, in this case, he saw churches attracting people out of his neighborhood. I've spent the past several days pondering this conversation.
Here are my reflections on that conversation:
1Why does my family celebrate Halloween and go trick or treating in our neighborhood? I have had various people ask me this over the years. Because of the churches inconsistency, there are many Christians confused about whether they should celebrate Halloween and how. My family celebrates Halloween for two primary reasons: for community and for fun. We can embrace a little fun on Halloween because we have joy. God has blessed us and we celebrate this by dressing up and getting candy. We also do this by inviting our friends over, because God has given us great friends. And God helps us and desires for us to love others. We eat with our friends. We have fire pits and chili contests. We celebrate Halloween at home because we are able to enjoy all of our friends at the same time, our Church friends and our non-church friends. We simply believe in engaging the culture rather than withdrawing from it. It would be sad if we lost this opportunity to love our friends and neighbors well. Celebrating with community is an important value we have, and we want our children to value it as well.
How can the church do better? The church needs to prayerfully discern how it can engage culture more without living in fear. We desire to live in the city, maintain our identity as God’s people, and love the city. It makes sense for Christians to think carefully before adopting rituals that have pagan roots. There is room for varying Christian practice as it relates to this holiday, but ignoring our neighbors is not something we can do.
For a majority of people in our culture, Halloween is about fun and candy. They do not even consider the past pagan implications of the holiday. Halloween provides a good opportunity to engage and be a part of the culture. We do not need to take every cultural holiday, bring it into the church, and Christianize it. Although there are times for the church celebrate together, and invite our local communities to participate, Christians should remember that Halloween is time when the unbelieving world is coming to your door. Capitalize on this opportunity and think of ways to cultivate relationships. In addition to the links above, Here is another blog post by Jeff Vanderstelt with specifics on how to love your neighbors well this Halloween.
Finally, see Halloween as an opportunity to grow in hospitality. My prayer for my family and my church is that we would be known for our hospitality--that people would think about how we love others and invite them into our lives. Have the same people you invite to your church gatherings been invited into your home? Halloween gives us an opportunity to be generous with others because Jesus has been generous with us. My hope and prayer for our families this Halloween is that we would all grow in generosity and hospitality.
Happy trick or treating. If you have ideas on how you or your church is engaging your community please share them in the comments below.