December 1, 2022

Sight Magazine – Postcards: No faking! The church trunk or treats are a Halloween tradition

St. Charles, Illinois

On Sunday, just over a week before Halloween, the Monster mash blown out of the back of an SUV decorated with orange and black tinsel and tinsel ghosts in the parking lot across from Baker Memorial United Methodist Church.

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, from the movie ghost huntershanded out candy from a vehicle, while nearby a little Princess Tiana from Disney’s The princess and the Frog chose a treat from another adorned with smiling pumpkins.

“Jesus, shine within me,” read a paper pumpkin.

A banner on the trunk of the car read: “Seek his light.”

Attendees play games during the trunk or treatment of the Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, Sunday, Oct. 23 in St. Charles, Illinois. PHOTO: RNS/Emily McFarlan Miller

It was the Baker Memorial’s annual “treat or treat,” an alternative to house-to-house Halloween candy collecting that has grown in popularity across the country in recent decades. Many are hosted by churches to attract crowds that might otherwise avoid religious institutions.

For Baker Memorial, the event is a way to serve and get to know their neighbors in this Chicago suburb along the Fox River.

“We like it from a church perspective because we get to see all the kids and talk to the families and bless them with little treats and games.”

– Pastor Kim Neace of Baker Memorial United Methodist Church

“We love it from a church perspective because we get to see all the kids and talk to the families and bless them with little treats and games,” Pastor Kim Neace said.

While Halloween dates back to the Roman Catholic observance of All Saints’ Day and the Celtic New Year’s celebration of Samhain, trick-or-treating began its rise to its current popularity after World War II, according to Lisa Morton, author of Trick or Treat: A Halloween Story. It has benefited from the help of confectionery and costume companies and performances of popular culture.

The trunk or treatment came later – around the 1980s – although Morton said she couldn’t pinpoint an exact date.

As a trick or treat, the kids dress up in costumes in their candy hunt, but instead of going door to door, they walk from car to car in a setting where the candy-dispensing adults are part of a community such as a church or a school.

“When used in place of Halloween, it may be due to security concerns or religious objections,” said Morton, who noted that some churches celebrate harvest festivals or Hallelujah night at the Halloween spot.

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Costumed children stop at different cars during the Baker Memorial United Methodist Church Trunk or Treat, Sunday, Oct. 23, in St. Charles, Illinois. PHOTO: RNS/Emily McFarlan Miller

But communities like Baker Memorial, which began hosting its Trunk-or-Treat event in 2015, also use them to raise awareness in surrounding communities.

“We are always trying to think about how we can meet children and families where they are, and how we can challenge ourselves to give back to our community, showing the community that the church is a place safe and loving who wants to love their children and get to know their children in the neighborhood,” said Neace, who is pastoring the church alongside Pastor Mary Zajac.

Other community organizations also participate; church members decorated most of the cars, but others represented firefighters and local Girl Scouts and Scouts.

The church was expecting a hundred people this weekend. But on a nearly 80-degree sunny day – in a part of the country where Halloween often requires a winter coat – Zajac said she had already handed out 500 candies.

“We normally do a bit of house-to-house, but we prefer that. We feel like it’s a lot safer,” said Melanie Panera, attending the trunk or treat with her family.

The kinds of places that contain chests or goodies — like church — make her feel more comfortable as a parent than strangers’ homes, Panera said.

Sunday’s event was the third trunk or treat she and her family – including husband, JR; his four-year-old daughter, Annalize; and a dog named Briggs (dressed as Stitch from the Disney movie lilo and stitch) that they were watching for a loved one – attended this fall. They loved that so many church members dressed in costumes and decorated their cars to hand out treats.

Annalize, dressed as pop superstar Selena, threw a bag of red beans at a Tornado carpet on the sidewalk near a car, landing on a small prize to add to his bag.

Across the parking lot, Carl Masters, dressed as a pirate, shouted, “Ready, aim, shoot!” as he slid candy down a candy chute from the back of a van bearing the name of his local business, Mr. Gutter.

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People enter the vault at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, Sunday, Oct. 23, in St. Charles, Illinois. PHOTO: RNS/Emily McFarlan Miller

Masters and his wife, Kim Masters, have attended Baker Memorial since childhood.

The church is “a home to me,” Kim Masters said, and its members a second family. She participated in youth groups and church mission trips as a young adult and is now bringing children of her own: four-year-old twins, Taylor (dressed as Grinch from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Maycee (a clown), and her six-year-old son, Peyton (Darth Vader from the original star wars trilogy).

“I want them to have that in their life. It’s more important than sports. It’s more important than anything else,” she said.

The trunk or treat is one of them, she said, because it makes other families feel welcome. She also wants her children to understand the importance of serving others.

And sometimes serving others feels like throwing candy down a chute made from the length of a gutter.

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