In the past year our family moved to a different part of the country (as I mentioned in the post about Saint Alban), and we’ve noticed some things in the mid-Atlantic that are different from our time in the Deep South. The recent most notable difference is how Halloween is celebrated. It’s probably a matter of temperature more than anything; it’s simply more bearable being outside in the fall when the weather is cool and crisp as opposed to 85* and humid. Trunk or treats have been happening for two weeks already. In a place where the leaves actually change, people really lean into this autumn holiday.
Something else that we noticed is that Halloween decorations are much more intricate and gruesome here. Maybe because of the influence of the neighboring New Jersey Devil? There are also elaborate haunted houses that exist simply for the sake of scaring people and raising money for charity, instead of the “Judgment Houses” that seemed to be all over the place in the South. The “haunts” are for fun, not for fear.
All of this is to say, my new parish has a history with “Mischief Night” (October 30) and Halloween. There was a fire in the Parish House on a Mischief Night in the 1970s that destroyed a great deal of our recorded history and much of the building. Additionally, there has been vandalism in our historic cemetery with graves dating back as far as the mid-1700s, that left a number of markers broken and scuffed, or missing altogether. With a parish as old as ours and events like these in our history, there are certainly some “ghosts” that still haunt us.
Such history also comes with a great deal of grace that’s helped bring us to this point. Just a couple of years ago, the interim rector at St. James’ introduced a practice of writing the names of the recently deceased on an altar frontal. This frontal appears on All Saints’ Sunday and stays up until the last Sunday after Pentecost. We’re going on at least our third year of this practice, and the frontal is filling up more quickly than anyone expected. It’s not just parishioners’ names are on there— it’s anyone parishioners would like to add.
What this practice brings to mind for me, and I hope for us, is that those who we love and see no longer continue to be present with us around the altar, much like local saints of the parish who have gone before us continue to surround us from the resting places in our church graveyard.
Each of our churches is haunted, in some ways, by the ghosts of our pasts. All Saints’ Day, though, encourages us to remember those faithful Christians who were the lights shining in those dark moments, the ones who helped our parishes endure. Taking time to remember them, to ask fellow parishioners about them, having our children inquire about them, helps those good memories continue, and remember the good work begun in others can inspire us to continue forward, too.
How does your congregation observe All Saints?