In Spring 2017, we invited American Baptists from across the country to share their Transformation Stories – this is a part of the Transformed by the Spirit initiative. Videos and written stories are included as provided by local churches and American Baptists. Want to share your story? Submit written and video submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. View the full list of Transformation Stories here.
Transformation Story: A Missional Twist on “Trick or Treating” – Latham Community Baptist Church, near Albany, New York
Beginning in 2011, the congregation of the Latham Community Baptist Church, an American Baptist Church outside of Albany, NY began collecting non-perishable food and warm coats on Halloween night. Here is the story behind this local mission.
The congregation felt that there are many living nearby who are unable to put food on the table – and still others who cannot keep their bodies warm and protected against the winter. The congregation decided to invite the neighborhoods nearest the church to participate in a food and coat drive. About one week before Halloween, members of the church attach bright orange flyers to the mailboxes of about 175 homes near the church. The flyer explains that members of the church will return on Halloween evening to collect whatever the neighbors feel they could give.
Members of the church then return to those homes on Halloween evening. During their conversation with the neighbors – however brief it may be – members can collect the items and provide a “Thank You” card explaining how and where the gifts will be distributed and it provides some information about the church itself. The congregation feels this approach helps our neighbors know we are interested in the vulnerable of our community and that we are willing to work on their behalf.
This approach to Halloween enhances the awareness of the church within the local community, provides much needed support to local ministries, and strengthens the fellowship of the members. Collecting these items on Halloween evening also emphasizes three important truths.
First – This is the right time of year to make collections of that nature. Our presence will tell people we love those who are in need and wish to serve them.
Second – This is the one time of the year in which people are expecting their evening to be interrupted by the ringing of doorbell and most accepting of the presence of new people at their door. Our presence at their door will tell our neighbors that we love them and wish to meet them where they are.
Third – Halloween is the day of the year in which many in our society make trivial evil’s reality and destructive nature. Our presence, particularly on this day, makes real the living and the loving nature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
People inside the church have come to enjoy being off the property and making the church visible to the community. Since this time, we have come through a discernment process in which we see our mission/vision statement as “Centered in Christ; Serving Our Community.” We have observed some interesting things on both ends of the spectrum. In several cases, we have approach a home that is decorated with Halloween items from the street to the front door, a yard full of fake headstones, spooky music playing outside, with the owner at the door dress in costume with a large bucket full of candy. When we introduce ourselves and ask if they have any food items or used coats for us, the response is “Sorry, we just can’t afford to do anything this year.” On the other end, we have people obviously do not want to participate in Halloween at all. They shut off every light in the house and the kids pass by. We have learned to go onto their porches because several will leave bags of items for us with our bright orange tag attached.
I think we have seen evidence of a change process by the members. While not connected with a collection drive, we were providing a community meal and handing out personal care items to homeless and poor in south Troy, NY. One bitterly cold night, a woman and her two children came in for a meal. Their hands were red and raw from the cold weather and wind. We had just given away the last pair of gloves we had brought with us to distribute. Without saying a word to one another, members of the church pulled out their own gloves and gave them to the woman and her children. A little later, a man who came for a meal approached me and said, “I saw what you did for that woman and her children. That was really special.” We all felt close to God that cold evening because we understand that quiet sacrifices and gifts given in God’s love can have an impact far beyond what we might first expect. It reminded us and humbled us to remember that at any given moment in time we might be the closest thing to Jesus Christ someone has even seen.
Pastor George Stefani