Trunk or Treat and Being Neighbors

Yes, I should be working on the sermon tonight, but as often happens I have to take a break to exercise the thoughts that burst forth when my mind goes into full gear. Tonight’s revolves around a comment Kay made earlier about the lack of “trick or treaters” in the neighborhood. Several years ago our street was overloaded with kids coming through on Halloween to get their annual treats. Tonight, however, the doorbell only rang about 10 times, and there just didn’t seem to be many kids about.

As we were talking about this I made the comment that I bet a bunch of kids and families went to the local “trunk or treat” events which seemed to be happening at every other church in the area. For those who don’t know the phenomena, “trunk or treat” involves church members parking their cars in the church parking lot and handing out candy to kids from their trunks.

“I hate that,” Kay said after hearing my comment.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well,” she offered, “it seems to me like these church events undermine the neighborhood part of Halloween.”

“Say more,” I said.

“Well I remember when these things were started,” she said. “It all began with folks suggesting that trick or treating in the neighborhoods wasn’t safe, so some churches started offering these “trunk or treat” events as a “safe alternative” to neighborhood trick or treating. But the fact was, Halloween trick or treating was pretty safe, and it brought neighborhoods together. Folks would walk the streets and neighbor would meet neighbor back when the kids roamed the streets together. The “trunk or treats” undermine these neighborhood based activities, and generally lead folks off into their own separate enclaves without getting to know those who live around them.”

Kay brings up a good point, I think.  Of course, most churches in our neighborhood that go the “trunk or treat” route do so in their minds as an evangelism/outreach tool. “We’ll offer this program and people will bring their kids by,” they say, “because they know our event will be safe. Then, once they are here, we can tell them about our church and let them know that our church loves kids.” No one intentionally sets up these events to capitalize on fear, but in fact the marketing often does appeal to the fearful places in the hearts of parents. However, in my experience the folks that generally come and participate in these activities are folks that are already involved in the life of the church at some level. Thus we end up hosting a series of parties that are functionally exclusive to our communities, but which fail in the goal of outreach.

The question that we have to ask is if our attempts at creating events like these at times when neighborhoods have traditionally gathered together as neighbors undermines their ability to function as neighbors. Put another way, do our attempts to LOVE our neighbor through activities like “trunk or treat” get in the way of our calling to BE neighbor.

Being neighbor is part of our call, you know. Of course the high point of Jesus’ teaching was that we are to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” but that teaching assumes that we are engaged in being neighbors. The call to be a neighbor is seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus asks “Who is the neighbor in this story,” knowing that it was the person who was willing to engage “on the road” rather than requiring our “neighbors” to come to us.

I don’t want to prolong this conversation, but I remember as a kid the UNICEF approach to Halloween. UNICEF would often throw a Halloween party, but only after kids and their parents had gone through their neighborhoods to not only get candy, but to also get loose change to benefit the UNICEF organization. Halloween in that model was understood as rooted in neighborhoods, and the structure of the program honored and promoted that understanding.

What would it look like for a church to give up the “trunk or treat” and instead send teams of persons and kids into the surrounding neighborhoods to promote community togetherness and understanding? What if they were to avoid the language of fear and proclaim proudly that Christ has called them to be present with their neighbors and to walk the streets together? What would a neighborhood based ministry for Halloween look like in a church context?

My one regret is that I wasn’t thinking about this earlier in the year. Thanks Kay for stirring the pot, and help me remember next year to think about what it means for a church to be a good neighbor.

What are your thoughts about the way the church sometimes undermines a community’s ability to be good neighbors?

Photo by Kimberkv via Flickr

2 thoughts on “Trunk or Treat and Being Neighbors

  1. Interesting… I’ve been thinking along these same lines. Last year, our church didn’t do its regular trunk-or-treat event. Coincidentally, it was also the first year we decorated our yard for Halloween. And we wound up thoroughly enjoying being at home and not at church that night. We got to chat with our neighbors — the ones we usually only wave to through car windows — and got a fair number of trick-or-treaters.
    This year we decided to stay home again, even though trunk-or-treat was back at our church. We got about 25 kids at our house, and I heard that the folks at church didn’t get very many kids(apparently nearby churches with bounce houses and other activities commanded more attention than just a line of car trunks). What’s more, our house turned out to be the unofficial after-party location for some of the people who had spent two hours with their trunks open in our church parking lot. It was great having so many people come by, kids or not!
    I’m thinking maybe this was the year that proved that our church doesn’t need to be a trunk-or-treat church. Come next October, we’ll see how much excitement there is. And maybe we’ll come up wit something more neighborhood-focused to do instead.

  2. You’ve presented something to think about. But my church doesn’t do TrunkorTreat. I schedule Halloween day like I schedule Christmas day — nothing else happens on that day!
    Despite the growing number of ToT at local churches, this year we had more than 150 children come to our door. Sadly, as I looked out, I noticed a good portion of the neighborhood was dark — were they all away at a ToT? or just not friendly toward children?
    Their loss. The children who came to our door were excited, polite, and appreciative. And they were well-rewarded for their efforts!
    BTW, one local church charged $5 per kid to attend its ToT? Anyone ever heard of that before???

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