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Churches deal with holiday's pagan connections
By Laura Johnston ~ Southeast Missourian
Questions about eternity, the afterlife and evil arise this month when children dress in costumes as the devil, angels, witches and others to celebrate Halloween.
For some it is just a day to dress in costumes and parade through the streets in search of candy. But for others, Halloween sparks a heated debate about how it is observed. It's a hot-button issue for schools, parents and clergy, some of whom believe it is a holiday filled with pagan rituals and symbolism and shouldn't be observed.
Interest in productions like "Judgement House," which end with the plan of salvation, has risen during the past decade as Christians seek alternatives to haunted houses.
Lynwood Baptist Church usually puts on a "Judgement House" production around Halloween, but the church held its production early this year to help train other congregations.
"We'll go back to doing it again next year," said the Rev. Carl Fondren, associate pastor of education and administration.
Need for alternatives
But do Christians truly need to find alternatives to Halloween?
Not necessarily, according to Dr. Kevin Orlin Johnson, author of "Why is this a holiday?: A guide to American celebrations of God and country," which will be released in 2004.
Johnson said that short of the obvious cases of witchcraft, there really isn't much for a Christian to worry about when it comes to Halloween.
The observance started as the Eve of All Saints' Day, a time when Christians "gathered to remember all of the faithful departed who are with God, to honor their example, and to remember what it takes to attain salvation."
But Halloween does have roots in paganism, going further back than 4th century Christian observations. The day is thought to be a time when the veil between the living world and the world of the dead is particularly thin.
The objection for Christians today arises over whether they see it as a pagan ritual still 2,000 years later, said the Rev. Bob Towner, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau.
Towner said he's taking cues from author C.S. Lewis, who said the only thing the devil cannot stand is mockery. While there is true evil in the world, evil isn't winning, he said. "The power of God is way more important than the world of the dead and damned."
His congregation is one of many area churches that will mark Halloween with special events, particularly for children and families.
"We're proclaiming the good news" on a night when ideas about skeletons, ghosts and demons float about," Towner said.
Christ Episcopal Church is holding a joint event with First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday. Worship will be at 6:30 p.m. and children are invited to wear their costumes. The service will include two Bible stories, one about the valley of the dry bones found in Ezekiel 37 and another from Revelation when the archangel Michael defeats the dragon.
Lynwood Baptist Church has been hosting a children's fall festival for more than five years. This year's event is from 6 to 8 p.m. on Halloween at the Osage Community Centre.
Children can wear costumes, but not anything scary. "We're encouraging them to come as their favorite book character or their favorite hero or Bible character," Fondren said. "But we just want to get away from Halloween and scary."
The fall festival is an event that encourages family involvement. "And it provides a save alternative to Halloween," Fondren said.
First Baptist Church is inviting children to a "Trunks of Fun" event on the parking lot from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
Members of the church will decorate the trunks of their cars and have games in the parking lot for children to play. The church has held the event two other years, but expanded it this year, said the Rev. Mike Shupert, minister of education.
Hot dogs and warm drinks will be served for guests. Children can even make crafts inside the church's Activities Center.
Cape Bible Chapel held a fall festival last year since Halloween fell on a Wednesday, a night when the church holds its normal activities.
But since other churches in the community already hold events, there's not any reason for duplication, said Dale Dolence, director of ministries at Cape Bible Chapel.
335-6611, extension 126