Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Pumpkin Party

Hello, God.

A couple of things have happened recently that have made me really thankful for my church family; and this is a good thing I think, as a couple of things have happened lately that have made me less than thankful for it as well.  I suppose that's the thing with families. Sometimes you fit together beautifully, all neat and kentucky, as they say, and other times you sort of rub up against each other like grit under a contact lens. 

I am going to focus on the good things. Probably for the best.

Take the Halloween party. As you know, Halloween is the 31st October and a friend and I decided that it was important that our church organised an 'alternative' Halloween event so that people who don't like the scary or negative connotations of the day, or those who don't want their children going Trick or Treating have a place to go so that the little ones don't miss out on fun.

Now, I'm not really sure where I should stand on this. I don't think that there's anything intrinsically evil about pumpkins (they're only a vegetable, after all) or about dressing up, for that matter. My children like being scary on occasion the whole year round; they don't need an excuse to pull faces and leap out from behind the sofa.

The date itself isn't necessarily any different from any other day; I am quite sure that the devil doesn't wait all year for the end of October in order to do mischief. He can sort that out any night of the year. In the UK we seem to have imported from America the practice of trick or treating without the friendliness they seem to enjoy over there. A few years ago my elderly parents were left considerably unnerved because they declined to open their door after dark to unknown people and as a result had their front windows pelted with eggs. I don't know why it has to get nasty. But this is going off the point. If we don't want our children celebrating all that's dark and creepy and distasteful then we need to provide them with an alternative.

I don't like to fill the girls' minds with monsters and zombies and ghosts and so on. Some of the costumes and masks in the supermarkets are really nasty-looking. The assistants in Sainsbury's on 31 October had make up on to make them look as if they were decaying corpses and many of them had painted on cut throats and were covered in blood. I am not against fun but I think you can take the harmless thrill thing a bit far. On the other hand, there is a growing tradition whether I like it or not, so I don't want them to feel that they miss out on enjoying themselves.

But then maybe I worry too much.

We have you, Jesus, the Light of the World. You came to bring peace and joy and love and all that's positive, didn't you? You have the victory over all that is evil. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Halloween, let's celebrate the good and not the scary. Let's lift you high and not flirt with the other guy, not even for a bit of fun.

I think that's what I think. I'm open to advice, though, if you feel so moved?

Anyway, in the true spirit of 'It seemed like a good idea at the time', I put my hand up at a planning meeting and said I'd sort it out. Weeks later it felt overwhelming and what had begun as a little get together for church family members threatened to become a monstrous juggernaut that we needed to keep on track for fear of derailing and causing untold problems. Still, onward. Fish and chips for about ninety, games, drinks, music, fun and carving pumpkins. 

People were just wonderful. Helpers emerged as if from nowhere, the evening went beautifully with just the right level of chaos. People were generous with their time and energy. Games went with a swing, fish and chips distributed seamlessly, rubbish spirited away effortlessly. I have no idea how long the aroma of chips and vinegar took to dissipate from the church! Some people sat and with a drink and a slice of pumpkin pie and watched and others joined in with gusto or stood and encouraged and laughed. And at the end the pumpkin prayer was explained stage by stage and the pumpkins were created.

Each group had a pumpkin that was ready prepared but with all its bits still in place.

Dear Lord Jesus, open my mind so that I can learn about you. 
Someone from each group took the lid off the pumpkin.

Please take away everything that makes me do things that are wrong...
The insides were scooped out of the pumpkin.

Thankyou for what you did for me on the cross, so that I could be forgiven.
The cross-shaped nose was pushed out.

Open my eyes to see your love all around me...
Two heart-shapes were removed to make eyes.

Please open my ears to hear your Word...
Rectangular ears pushed out at either side of the pumpkin.

Help me to tell other people about you.
A mouth-shape was removed to make a big smiley mouth.

Please let your light shine through all that I do.
Finally a battery operated tea-light was placed in each one.

The lights were dimmed, the pumpkins lined up and switched on and we gave out glowsticks before the band played 'Shine from the inside out' and 'The greatest day in history' and the children jumped and danced and the grown ups lifted their hands and we all sang and it was just wonderful. Maybe the strangeness of the event helped; it's not every day that you get to dance in the dark in church and wave a luminous stick and sing as loud as you can, off-key or not, in a disinhibited manner while surrounded all the time by the same folks that stand with dignity and solemnity on a Sunday morning and do it by the book. It's for the children, right?

My friend said to me afterwards, 'Now that's how we teach our children to worship.'  She's right. They had fun. They were joyful. The message was simple and positive and Biblical and they understood. The music was loud and they had glow-in-the-dark things and a big open space was cleared and they were given permission to be energetic and to have fun. They were given permission to be children in your house and they praised you while dancing and waving their glowsticks and revelling in the specialness of it. We were all given permission to be children and it felt really good. 

I am quite sure that the angels were laughing as we were. It must have made you happy, Lord, didn't it? For a minute or two it just felt as if we'd got it right. 

It was a lovely evening. People pulled together, had fun, praised you - and clearing up seemed to happen all on its own. Everyone was smiley, people left with a handful of sweets and young and old seemed to like it. I haven't heard that anyone didn't, anyway.  It was a family event, and Abba, you were there. I could feel you.

Thankyou so much for giving that evening to me, Lord, because I needed it. I needed a little something to restore my faith in my Family. We'd wondered if it was all worth it beforehand and I'd made mental notes not to do it all over again in a year's time, but on the night it was great. It was reassuring. It was a happy time. 

You were there; it was good, wasn't it?

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