Notes from the Field
Growing up in North Dakota, I was used to trick-or-treating with costumes you could wear with a winter coat and snowpants underneath. Here in Columbia, South Carolina, we at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church had pretty much the best weather you could imagine for our second annual Trunk or Treat festival.
Last Sunday night, our parking lot was filled with pirate ships (two, in fact: apparently more minivan drivers than you’d think are in fact closet pirates), spooky motorcyclists, Hawaiian luau minibuses, face painters, inflatable bouncy pens, and of course enough candy to keep our area dentists busy for the rest of the year. We didn’t see our rector anywhere, but there was a wizard standing out on the street corner, waving his wand and generally carrying on, who looked curiously like him. Nor did we see our curate, but we were visited instead by an old-fashioned English vicar who appeared convinced that the 1662 BCP was in fact the new prayer book.
The event had been publicized at local schools, and we estimated that over five hundred people showed up, a large number of whom were non-members from the area community. Members from our Spanish-speaking service, Santa Maria, served up a delicious free dinner to our guests, of hot dogs, homemade tamales, and posole soup. For many people, simply setting foot on a church campus for the first time is a big step. Many of our members at St. Mary’s drive significant distances to worship, meaning that people in our own neighborhood may not be familiar with us. We saw Trunk or Treat as a way of bringing the community into the church and showing generous hospitality to our neighbors, especially those who may be unchurched and those who could use a good meal. We handed out gift bags filled with candy and information about our church, inviting everyone to come back soon!
Inviting people to have more than just fun and a free meal, we opened our sanctuary for “soaking prayer” — silent prayer with laying on of hands, in a meditative candlelit setting, led by our associate for pastoral care and a number of our members. It was a way of worshiping in our sanctuary that we’d never offered before, and a number of people (both members and non-members) came in for prayer. Next year, we may do the same thing with Compline at the close, both as a way of introducing people to a worship service they may not have encountered before, and to re-claim All Hallow’s Eve as a hallowed time of prayer!
It got us all talking at our staff meeting a few days later. What are some other ways that we can use events like this one to break down perceived barriers between the church and the surrounding community? How can we serve the people around us — our neighbors — and invite them to fellowship with us? We had great turnout, but our numbers that Sunday morning were down (some people came for the party, but not for worship). How can we find ways to fellowship together as a church community that builds up and flows into our worship and prayer life?
And, last but not least: Are minivan-driving Episcopalians really all secret pirates? If so, shouldn’t we keep this in mind out on the interstates?
—The Rev. Jordan Hylden is curate and assistant for Christian formation at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Columbia, South Carolina