Challenges and Opportunities on Halloween 2021

As much as the pandemic has given us unprecedented challenges in the church’s mission it has also given us opportunities to try new things and adapt the former things to the realities of protocols, restrictions and an infected world.   Some of this has happened around regular calendar moments and we have another one coming to us in about 7 days on Halloween.  

Halloween is supposed to be a scary time. The church has had at times an uneasy relationship with this autumn event.  We can however bend it to an occasion where we interact, exchange and even bond with our neighbors.  In some ways the pandemic has been dark and full of fear. For many it has been a season of grief, sorrow and loss with isolation and loneliness prevailing. Jesus taught us to enter these places with light and life and we can do it by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit leading the way.  Here are some examples. 

One Fresh Expressions pioneer Jeanette Staats shared this account… 

In the midst of COVID, our church relocated to a new building in a new neighborhood.  Previously, we had participated in our town’s Halloween festivities by hosting a Fall Festival at the same time kids trick-or-treated in our downtown area.  However, as with most communities, Fall 2020 looked very different.  The town didn’t host an official event and gathering restrictions & health concerns were still in place for us to be able to host something in our new space.  

We wanted our new neighborhood to know that we were there so we decided to do a REVERSE Trick-or-Treat. Click To Tweet We made candy bags (including gluten/peanut free ones!), attached a COVID Bingo card for a chance to win a FREE pizza (giving us a chance to capture contact info.), and walked up & down all the surrounding streets in our new neighborhood and passed out free candy bags.  For the people that opened their doors, both young & old, there was an overwhelming surprise & excitement that we would bring them candy (as opposed to the traditional asking of candy!).  It gave us an opportunity to say “hey, we are new to the neighborhood and just wanted to say HI!”  

It also gave us an opportunity to hear a little bit about our neighbors, to hear their stories and make a connection.  Nothing specific came of that time, other than putting some smiles on people’s faces.  This year, we are hosting a Fall Festival in our new building.  We will be inviting our neighbors to join us for an afternoon of fun & games and our prayer is that we will have an opportunity to say Hey neighbors! we’d like to get to know you!  We can begin making connections and building relationships within our immediate community.

From Shannon Kiser a Fresh Expressions Trainer and staff member

Last year during the pandemic, our church saw that families needed to play together. These families were all trying to navigate and survive virtual school, and other pandemic issues; we knew that it was hard on families. Parents were exhausted, kids were missing friends, they were all tired of virtual everything, and all were weary of the daily grind at home. So we held a Halloween Costume and Bowling event in the parking lot. We borrowed plastic bowling pins and balls from the local elementary school and set them up in socially-distanced bowling lanes. The kids (and many parents) came dressed up in costumes. We fostered a spirit of friendly competition, a candy chute for special treats, festive music, and lots of laughter as families played together. Because so much of life with kids at the time was limited to home and was mediated by the parents (all the school, all the meals, all the activities), this event was an opportunity for everyone to just enjoy something purely fun together.

1) In the moment, it was just the power of community. Parents were hungry for conversation with other parents, and kids were hungry to be with other kids. Both of those things were able to happen, even while maintaining pandemic protocols to keep everyone safe.
2) A longer term impact has been more wholistic connection with families, not just kids that parents drop off and pick up later. We’ve seen real impact of families playing together which has helped them see the possibilities of serving together and sometimes even leads to worshiping together.
3) Another longer term impact has been gaining a reputation as a church that is neither hunkered down afraid to do anything in the pandemic nor thoughtlessly dismissive of the pandemic. In the midst of political polarization in our culture (which is often played out in our churches), we garnered curiosity because we were offering a third way…valuing relationships and community AND providing safe avenues to be together.

Another Fresh Expressions leader Rev. Sarah Watkins Davis shares this account…

The Halloween holiday has been a prime moment to typically connect to our neighbors. (we had over 400 kids and 50+ cars for a Trunk or Treat event in 2019) More so we are the Pumpkin Church in town – we’ve hosted the Patch as a youth fundraiser for 42 years now – we have begun using the patch as a place to gather.  Five years ago we began to look closely at our neighborhood and realized how disconnected we were, especially to our business community. This brought about a strategic missional shift.  

PreCovid – we delivered pumpkins to neighboring businesses (we are completely surrounded by medical offices, banks, fast food restaurants and other one stop businesses).   We had a Saturday Fall Fest called Pumpkin Palooza which was a one day event and for two years, drew some participants.  2019 was our 40th anniversary so we planned more with weekly concerts, a meal served just for business neighbors, and other opportunities to engage.  We even moved our typical Wednesday evening church dinners to the lunch time hours and we drew a number of church members as well as people from the business community, and our weekday preschool.  Wednesday Connect Lunches became known for the best salad bar in the area (there weren’t any others but they did love it).  Weather permitting, we held concerts, weekly worship, painting parties, and other communal events in the patch or in the garden/stage/fire pit area located nearby.

Of course Covid has shifted all of this! With the area Covid numbers, we are still leary of asking people to gather. We still walked the neighborhood, delivering individually wrapped candy (supply chain delayed our pumpkins!) and invited them to the patch, to lunch and to worship with us. This year we’re focused on Wednesday lunches – we’ve invited food trucks to park in our pumpkin patch area for lunch and we have the local library doing story time.  Our pumpkin patch volunteers are the #1 connection with our community and they're all gifted in offering hospitality and welcoming the community. Click To Tweet  

Honestly, if I tell someone I serve Myers Memorial UMC, they often don’t know where it’s located – despite it being one block from the busiest intersection in our community.  But if I say the Pumpkin Church they know exactly where I mean.  Who knew a Pumpkin Church could be the thing?  But it is!

Who knows what it could be that Almighty God would use to bring people together, become friends and share faith that leads to eternity.  It could be a fire-pit with hot dogs or s’mores and some good and wholesome storytelling.  Maybe it is hosting a pumpkin carving contest (if you can find the pumpkins) or carve something else like cardboard boxes or plastic jugs. There are lots of ideas to be leveraged for building community – google it or search on social media – you will find something.   

I learned a long time ago to: Start where we are; With what we’ve got; Do what we can. Click To Tweet These days can be overwhelming, confusing and we may not know what to do.  Whether it is a neighborhood, a business or marketplace complex, a park or a pumpkin patch; God gives us a context – a place to be.  He also gives us things; creativity, opportunity and resources we can bring to bear in a moment.  He calls us to step up and engage in a mission that changes lives. 

The Pandemic has been a season of what feels like lots of TRICKS.  Let us look for the TREATS – those things that can bring a smile to someone’s face and help them to see there is more to this life than struggles and covid woes. In the midst of troubles there is a God who loves them and The Lord sends us to tell them that Good News.   


Jon Davis

The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is an Episcopal Priest, church planter, teacher, worship leader. He is on staff with Fresh Expressions as a mission strategist and is launching some Fresh Expression gatherings through the Abbey Mission in a NE suburb of Orlando.


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