Last weekend, I took my younger daughter trick-or-treating. We spent a long time as parents debating whether we should take our children. We read scientific articles, talked to other parents, and spent time in long conversations. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead, making sure we donned our masks, only traveled as a family, and sanitized our hands frequently between houses. We also talked to our child about how although she may want to greet friends with warm hugs, that night was a night for verbal greetings instead of physical. Our child did not argue with the restrictions and was simply happy to be going at all.
We embarked at the designated time not knowing what to expect – whether other families with children would be out safely, whether homeowners would respect social distancing and mask wearing, or whether the entire evening would need to be abandoned. Much to my surprise, the evening went better than I could have hoped. The number of trick-or-treaters was cut in half, and people mostly respected safe distancing. Homes distributing candy were also at about fifty percent, and many of those who distributed exhibited tons of creativity: from baskets of candy lowered from outdoor balconies, to candy “kabobs” planted in yards, to zipline delivery mechanisms, to clotheslines of candy. Many homeowners bagged candy to reduce touching and many seemed to have read the best practices about how to hand out candy. I was blown away by our neighbors’ thoughtfulness, creativity, and grace.
But what struck me the most was a truth emerging from the whole evening. If you had asked me or any of my neighbors before Halloween why we were participating in the ritual of trick-or-treating, we probably all would have said we were doing it for the kids: to give them some sort of normalcy in this crazy, abnormal time. But as I tucked my child in that night, and thought about all our experiences, I realized a deeper truth. I think all of us adults participated in the ritual not just because the children needed it; we participated because we needed it. We needed just one thing to be semi-normal in this super stressful, topsy-turvy world. And we took our precautions and stretched our creativity, but we participated in a ritual that reminded us of joy, innocence, and community.
In many ways, that is what we are trying to do every week in churches too. The very essence of Church is incarnational – from how we gather (in large groups), how we worship (using our all our senses, including touch), how we participate in ritual (often kneeling shoulder to shoulder, receiving communion from common dishes, and laying on of hands), to how we interact (from children’s programming and play to Coffee Hours). With this pandemic, our incarnational essence just is not possible in the same way. And so, we are worshiping online, we are offering socially distant worship services, and we are gathering on Zoom for pretty much everything – from formation, to fellowship, to learning, and even play. I know Church right now is not the same, but if Halloween offers any lessons, perhaps it is that participating in the ritual – even an amended and altered ritual – is important for our spiritual, emotional, and physical health. If you have taken a break from the ritual of Church because it just is not the same (and you are right, it is not), please know that Hickory Neck is here to help you reclaim some of that ritual. It may be awkward or push your technological abilities. But I promise, even those unusual connections might just offer the ritual you need to stay healthy and whole!