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