Photo: Ryan Marsh
“What is this?”
The woman stared down at the Church of the Beloved table with a puzzled look.
Ryan Marsh — pastor of the church — and members of the ELCA congregation were staffing the table at the Main Street Halloween party in Edmonds, Wash. They were handing out candy to families along with the rest of the city’s businesses and organizations.
But on the table was also something unique, “something very ‘us,’ ” notes Ryan: a bowl of sand bristling with tall, skinny, lit candles.
“Tomorrow is All Saints Day,” Ryan told the woman. “That’s why tonight is called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ or ‘Halloween.’ So, if you want, you can light a candle here to pray ‘thanks’ to God for someone important to you.”
She looked intently at the bowl of sand and said, “How much?”
“How much?” Now Ryan was puzzled.
“How much does it cost?” she said.
“It doesn’t cost anything. It’s free,” Ryan replied.
She quickly took a candle, lit it and placed it in the sand. She stood there looking at the flickering flame for a moment, and then her eyes began to well with tears.
“Thank you,” she said. “I needed to do that.”
For some people who paused at the Church of the Beloved table, this was their first experience with prayer. They would ask, “What do I say?”
“It’s easy,” Ryan assured them. “Just say ‘thank you’ to God, like you would to anyone who’s given you a really good gift.”
Children seemed to like — and get — the experience the most. The little pyromaniac boys were more excited about the prayer station than the candy. Running up to their parents they would yell, “Mom! Can I light a prayer candle? Can I?”
At one point 14 children were crowded around the sand bowl saying their prayers, with parents and guardians lined up behind them. A Church of the Beloved member might ask, “So, who’d you pray for?” after a child stuck a lit candle in the sand. The answers: “My grandma’s dog.” “My uncle who died.” “The soldiers in the war.” “My dad.”
Assessing the success of their prayer table at the street fair, Ryan observes, “God was showing us a different way to love our neighbors. We weren’t offering ‘a harvest alternative to Halloween.’ We weren’t asking people to come into our church domain.
“We were joining with the established expression of our neighborhood, in the public marketplace, alongside businesses and community services, and there, on common ground, we offered our unique way of serving Edmonds. There was nothing confrontational about it. It was what our neighborhood wanted, and it was what we had to offer: a moment of prayer and gratitude that flowed in and out of the party.”
By the end of the night, the three members from Beloved had handed out more than 3,000 pieces of candy and over 200 candles had been lit. Ryan says, “We were convinced that God is alive and at work in Edmonds — even on Halloween.”
Perhaps especially on Halloween.