By Paul Koch –
On the day I was installed as the privileged pastor to the saints of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, I met a colleague who soon became a close friend and mentor. Dale seemed to possess all the qualities and habits of a pastor that I lacked. He was incredibly compassionate and dedicated to the care of his flock while being a faithful student of the Biblical languages and teachings of the church. He helped me navigate some pretty sticky situations those first few years in the ministry and develop good habits for the work of a pastor. And early on he shared with me a story about Halloween that proved to be a great blessing.
One year, as Halloween approached on the calendar, Dale realized that it was going to land on a Wednesday. No big deal except that he held his confirmation class on Wednesday. While he thought about simply cancelling confirmation that night so the kids could all go out Trick-or-Treating, he also knew that one particular family who had a daughter in the class was vehemently opposed to all things Halloween. (Or as they used to refer to it among the Bible-thumpers: the Devil’s Day.) So he decided to hold class anyway and perhaps let the students out a little early. When the kids arrived, the girl whose family opposed Halloween showed up in costume. She obviously had plans after class. So my pastor friend asked her mom about it after class. He was informed that she wasn’t observing Halloween but was going to a Harvest Festival at a local church. So he asked, “Is everyone going to be dressed in costumes?” “Yes.” “Are they going to be giving out candy?” “Yes.” “And it’s all happening tonight on October 31st?” “Yes.” “Yeah, that is called Halloween!”
As I remember the story, at this point, she apparently exploded in fury. Dale had his own little horror show as she transformed into some sort of distorted creature fueled by righteous indignation, while she made a passionate distinction between a Harvest Festival and the evil of Halloween.
Now as a good friend he shared this with me as a cautionary tale, hoping that I would learn from his mistake. But I wasn’t as quick on the uptake as he imagined, and the righteous indignation of Halloween exploded in our little town in Southeast Georgia, though I should have known better. I should have been prepared for the two sides of the 31st: the Harvest Festivals at the churches around town, and the trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhoods. But everything came to a head in 2010 when Halloween landed on a Sunday. The Devil’s Day and the Lord’s Day were in direct competition.
Instead of asking a man if he would pull his ox out of well on the Sabbath, everyone was asking if you would go trick-or-treating on Sunday. Both sides of this great battle had valid points. Sunday is the Lord’s Day; it is the one day we actually make sure we gather together as brothers and sisters around the Word and Sacraments of our Lord. Surely the best option was to gather in the evening at the churches for a harvest festival, stay within our family of faith, and continue to build up one another. It made sense. It seemed like the Christian thing to do.
However the other side made some good observations, as well. Halloween, as it is currently practiced in our country, sort of fools our neighbors into being gracious. As we walk around our neighborhoods trick-or-treating, we find that there is an abundance of grace hiding in all the decor of death and fear. For no matter how good or poor your costume is, no matter how old or young the trick-or-treater, when the doorbell is rung and the magic words are recited, there is candy for all! So the traditional Halloween crowd made their stand; that we should worship and receive the gift in our churches and then head out in droves to live as part of our neighborhoods receiving and giving gifts.
In turn, the harvest festival contingent rent their clothes like Caiaphas crying “Blasphemy!” as their righteous indignation burned hot. Has not God called His children out of the world? Has He not condemned the ways of the world? How dare we engage in foolish and filthy distractions of our age?
But the Halloween enthusiasts rebutted that we are to become all things to all people that we might win some. To those outside of the law we become as one outside of the law so that we might win those outside of the law! And after all, harvest festivals are really just a rip-off of the culture like a Christian rock concert or Bible video game. Why not actually engage the culture without having to be a part of it?
So lines were drawn and sides taken, friendships were threatened and allegiances tested. When George started speaking in favor of trick-or-treaters, old acquaintances said he was better than that. When Sam heard about what the harvest festivals were up to, he called for a boycott or perhaps even getting the law involved to shut them down.
And then it got really bad – everyone started quoting Luther. This, we all know, is the ultimate source of validity to your argument. If you can find a quote of Dr. Luther to support your position, why then you’ve got them beat. The one side recalled the great “Flood Prayer” from our baptismal liturgy about being separated from the world of unbelievers. The other side talked about his works on vocation and being involved in the lives of our neighbor, not hiding behind our monastic walls. Back and forth it went with no real end in sight.
Then they turned to me, where was I going to land? What was the best course forward? How should we live as God’s children when Halloween lands on Sunday? You would have thought that I would have learned from my friend’s mistake, that there is no easy way through righteous indignation. How could you possibly make a move without being labeled with one side or the other? Perhaps the best thing would have been to get out of town for a few days, to simply lay low until it all blew over, anything would have been better than what I did – which was inquire as to where the best candy would be provided.
Ok, so maybe this didn’t actually happen. Then again…