A View from the Pew: Trunk-or-Treat vs. Trick-or-Treat

Last month I explored the concept of fall festivals as church events and how to think about them in the current context. This month, I’d like to spend a little time unpacking a specific form of the fall festival known as “trunk-or-treat.”

Internet sources place the origins of this adaptation of Halloween trick-or-treating in the mid-1990s. Because of the age of my children, we began participating in such an activity in the mid-2000s.

Our experience with trunk-or-treat was at church, although I have seen schools, scouts, and other secular groups hosting them. For the uninitiated, the idea is simple: rather than walk around a neighborhood in costumes, ringing doorbells and asking for candy with the traditional refrain of “trick-or-treat,” children in costumes go from car to car in a parking lot where adults have decorated their vehicle trunks, hatchbacks, or truck beds and dispense candy.

Like everything in 2020, our church’s annual trunk-or-treat was canceled, and many churches still may not be adding this event back to their calendars given the recent scare of the COVID-19 Delta variant. But before your church goes rushing back to pre-pandemic trunk-or-treat, it’s helpful to keep in mind that a church event can and often does lose its intended purpose without careful reflection and planning.

We always enjoyed our church’s trunk-or-treat with our three boys, particularly when it was a complementary activity rather than a substitute for neighborhood trick-or-treating. For us, they were two distinctly different activities, although honestly our kids just greedily saw it as a way to get more candy.

What I enjoyed about trunk-or-treat was getting together with church friends, decorating our trunk, helping our boys choose costumes and seeing the kids proudly parade in their costumes. It was great when we had members of the community attend, and I tried to make it a point to speak to everyone I didn’t recognize and let them know our church was friendly and welcoming.

What was great about trick-or-treating in my neighborhood was the once-a-year experience of spending time with my neighbors, regardless of their religious affiliation, and participating in our community. Walking together with our children through the neighborhood provided the context for meaningful conversations that never seemed to happen otherwise. It’s the kind of relationship building that churches often aspire to but can’t seem to deliver. Those Halloween nights were unforced, authentic, and communal.

If your church has a trunk-or-treat, be mindful not to fall into the trap of isolation. Don’t forego your participation in neighborhood activities in order to spend time only with other believers in the church parking lot. Withdrawing feels safer, and we’re often more comfortable keeping company only with those who see the world as we do. But Halloween can provide you with an opportunity to be salt and light in the world.

Trunk-or-treat is best when it’s open to the community, and church members’ overflowing bounty of candy is extended to everyone, including those who will never visit your church. By handing out candy and treating children with love and affirmation you can show people just how serious you take Jesus’ words, “It is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

So if COVID-19 allows, plan a trunk-or-treat at your church, but do so with an eye toward the larger community. Engage also in your neighborhood trick-or-treat. Approach the season with a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” mentality. You can always discard all the extra candy or make it a teachable moment on everything from sharing to nutrition to generosity.

Be the presence of Christ wherever you can. Sometimes the opportunities are right in front of us, and all we have to do is recognize them.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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