A Halloween Greeting from Pastor Jeremey

October 21, 2010

Halloween is just around the corner, and there’s a buzz in the northeastern air.  Tarrytown is covered in cobwebs and scarecrows, and seasonal costume shops are appearing out of nowhere to remind us that the holiday is just around the corner.   As a child, Halloween was among my favorite holidays, but as a Christian, it has often been difficult to know how to reconcile it with my faith.   For many years Amy and I have wrestled to understand whether or not participation in this seemingly dark and, at times, demon-esque holiday is fitting for our family.   Many Christians have felt the same tension, and in recent years, numerous American churches have decided to provide church-run alternatives for the community.

For several years, this was the only way that Amy and I could participate in Halloween with a clear conscience—mostly because we did not view it as participation in Halloween.   Rather, it was a dress-up-for-candy-and-play-games “harvest festival” at the church building that happened to occur on the same night as the dress-up-for-candy-and-play-games holiday that was happening throughout the rest of the community.   However, as the years went by, I became uneasy with our departure from society – especially since we were basically doing the same thing as our entire community, but we had enclosed ourselves within the church walls.   Though I deeply sympathize with the motivation of these churches, in recent years Amy and I have actually drastically shifted our practice.   Instead of heading to the church on Halloween, we have intentionally decided to trick-or-treat alongside or with unbelievers in our neighborhood.

Now let me make clear that there is more than one way to respond to Halloween.   I tend to agree with Martin Luther who said that “it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience,” so every family will have to decide for themselves how they can best honor God on October 31st.   Nevertheless, I’d like to share with you several reasons why I promote trick-or-treating over church-based alternatives to Halloween.

1)  I used to believe that anything “secular” is inherently evil to some extent.  For some reason I was failing to recognize that my car, my bank, my grocery store, my mailbox, the roadways, the hospitals, and all manner of society in which I regularly partake are both secular and God’s Common Grace to humanity (for more on this, see my sermon “The Gospel and the City”).

2) I used to think that by doing a “Harvest Festival” (or whatever you call it) at the church as an alternative to Halloween was somehow less “secular” than what the rest of society was doing.   However, unless a person is actually celebrating the day of the dead (most people aren’t — they just like to dress up and get lots of candy), dressing up in a costume, playing games, and getting candy is the same thing whether you do it at a school, throughout the town, or at a church.   None of these locations makes the event more “sacred” than the other – all of them are secular events, technically speaking.

3) Since it is a secular event, there is no need to pull away from society in order to do it.   By pulling away, we Christians simply contribute to the creation of a “Christian ghetto” where we are doing the same things the world is doing, but we’re refusing to do it with them…unless they want to come into our world and do it on our terms.

4) Our family can maintain our personal convictions about what we are and aren’t going to support on Halloween, by limiting what kinds of costumes our kids wear, guarding the events we participate in (e.g. haunted houses with mock executions), and by explaining to them that our family is not celebrating demonic activity or the day of the dead.   We’re just dressing up and getting candy with the rest of the kids in our community and it’s a fun way to get to know our neighbors.

5) Usually, church-based alternatives are thought of as an outreach event to unbelievers, but the people it mainly serves are the Christians who have a hard time with the notion of Halloween.   Unbelievers tend to want to trick-or-treat around the town rather than spend Halloween at a church.   I don’t blame them.

6) The most effective outreach into a community takes place when individual Christians are salt in the world – in their own God-appointed communities; not when Christians expect the world to come into the church.

These combined thoughts helped us realize that rather than taking the opportunity to participate in our communities when they were already gathering with one another (when else do you have people coming to one another’s doors asking for you to hand things to them?), and rather than shining light to our neighbors, we were pulling away from them to have our own party.   We also realized that we were too heavily relying on church events to do outreach rather than getting personally involved in our own community and neighborhood.

So, we started trick-or-treating on Halloween, and it has been a wonderful blessing!   We ended up meeting more people in our neighborhoods on Halloween than at any other time of the year (except maybe garage sales).   Last year we even met some missionaries at a house on our block and joined them several months later for dinner and a time of prayer for our neighbors and one another.

So this year, I want to encourage you to be a light on Halloween – whatever that looks like for your family.   Perhaps you will decide to stay at home, and if that is what God is calling you to do, then I would encourage you to be purposeful in that time – especially investing in your children.   Think about what kinds of things might be purposeful for trick-or-treaters that come to your homes.   If families are planning to do something Halloween-ish on Oct 31st, you may want to consider getting together with other families in your neighborhoods or other families from the church and go trick-or-treating with one another.   Go to the school carnival and meet some parents – perhaps invite them to your home for dinner next week.   Get to know your neighbors a little, or come to Tarrytown and get to know the community.

For the glory of Jesus in our communities…through the power of the Holy Ghost,

Pastor Jeremey

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