It’s Halloween. And while I’m not intending to get into a discussion about the rights and wrongs of how it’s celebrated, it can provide and example to help us to think about our church, and how we live out our faith by what we do. Each of the approaches listed does something well, but be aware of what you could be missing out on if everything’s done using the same model.
The ‘planning it big, well in advance’
A church ‘Light Party’ is a wonderful example. An annual event, with themed costumes, glossy invitations, and volunteers from across the church coming together to make a big splash. It offers a safe but fun alternative to trick-or-treating, and it’s easy for church kids to invite their school friends as local schools are active in publicising it. However, it’s hard work, so parishes could only focus on a few of these events each year. In such a big event, it’d be easy for a child who came along not to meet the same people next time they came into church.
During the Olympics, a church like this might run an event screening the opening ceremony, advertised to the whole community.
The ‘do something for the kids’ parish
A church near me has a different approach. Weekly Sunday School isn’t quite enough for the children, who go to different schools, to get to know each other well. An in-house, low-profile party for the church family helps them to build stronger friendships by using team games where new people are integrated into the group. These close Christian friends may, later in the year, be going out in mission, but this event is about building the relationships that support their faith, meeting people who’ll stick up for them in the playground and walk with them through life.
During the Olympics, a church like this might have a shared meal with each contributor bringing some international food, or run a sports day with mixed up small groups competing in a range of tasks.
The ‘principled objection’ parish
We can easily think of reasons to object to Halloween, and may wish to completely change the way it is celebrated. Where views are strongly held, a church might be seen actively engaging with the issues, using the opportunity to bring important moral questions into a public forum. These churches might pray for spiritual protection for the community, or they might discourage local businesses from selling related merchandise.
During the Olympics, a church like this might campaign against human trafficking, promote sustainability, or practically help those restricted by the Olympic Route Network. Their members might campaign locally or debate nationally to help direct the public consciousness towards negative aspects they’d otherwise gloss over.
The ‘do what works for you’ approach
Otherwise known as ‘grassroots mission’ - after teaching its members how to live out their Christian faith, this church will leave it down to individuals to decide what that looks like in this case. Young adults might have a themed dinner party, or teenagers might get together to watch a movie, but all done to make friends with people outside the church, engage with culture, or spark debate among their peers – ‘When you can live forever, what do you live for?’. Families can be seen organising pumpkin parties for their children’s friends, getting to know other parents and building supportive relationships in the community. A regular time to share testimonies at church helps people to support and encourage each other.
During the Olympics, people with tickets might treat their friends and share a day out. Commuters might be particularly attentive to other passengers needs while on the tube, or those with spare rooms might offer hospitality an athlete’s family.
Something for everyone
Any of these approaches could be the right one for you. Whatever the events happening around us, it’s important to think about how we engage with them, and whether the way we’re doing mission is helping us to do what we meant to. As the Olympics comes round, we’ve only got one chance to respond, so let’s plan ahead and do it well.
If you’d like to talk about what your church is planning, and see if there are resources and other churches to support you, email me (Email: elizabeth.harrison [at] london.anglican.org), or give me a ring on 020 7932 1251.