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Letter from Amy: Oct 25, 2023

John August Swanson, Procession, 2007. I love this visual representation of the communion of all saints - from the disciples fishing atop the cathedral to the living faithful processing through the streets.

Dear Incarnation,

We are approaching a period of time called Allhallowtide — the three days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. (Side note: why are we always drawing attention to these obscure church seasons, also called -tides? Because Jesus invaded time and space in his incarnation, the church calendar orders its days according to his life, death, and resurrection. Living by this calendar is yet another way we orient our lives toward the reality of Christ's kingdom.)

Back to Allhallowtide. Each of these three days has a rather confusing and complicated history in the church, so Becky Keller and Katie Hamlin have written a wonderfully helpful 3-part series exploring (and occasionally debunking) the history and meaning of each. I encourage you to read them all!

My own relationship to Halloween has changed a lot over the years. I've always had a low tolerance for scariness and gore, and that tolerance seems to shrink further each year. The longer I live, and now pastor, in a world of so much pain and death, the less capable I feel of viewing fake bloody chainsaws or murderous dolls on my neighbor's lawn. A stroll through the neighborhood in October becomes akin to walking through the valley of the shadow of death — except that shadow is cheaply constructed of styrofoam and plastic.

And yet despite the excessive gore that comes with this season, I have also come to love Halloween.

I grew up in Texas, where neighbors lived further apart (because land abounds), people drove rather than walked places, and a Bible-belt suspicion of Halloween had already transformed the holiday from neighborhood trick-or-treating to Harvest Festivals in church parking lots. I also grew up in an economically depressed neighborhood that wasn't particularly safe, surrounded by troubled people whose doorbells my parents certainly wouldn't want me to ring.

So I don't remember ever trick-or-treating until I moved to Arlington in 2005. I had no idea what I was missing! On Halloween, we practice some of the most generous hospitality of the entire year. We hang out with our neighbors in the streets and lawns and porch steps for hours. They come to our house and we go to theirs, uninvited but so warmly welcomed. We lavishly give away food (of the fun-sized, chocolatey variety) to all who come with open hands — regardless of how politely they ask, whether they thank us, or how responsibly they will consume it. I mean, what is that but grace?

And I've even come to appreciate the plastic displays in the neighbors' yards, at least from a safe distance (I still avert my eyes while walking past). For a few days each fall, we openly ridicule death and play at the edge of our deepest fears and griefs. We collectively face the reality of evil in the world and mock it through flimsy plastic decorations.

Far more than being an opening for demons, Halloween is an opening for prayer. An opportunity to intercede for our neighbors and ourselves with unique insight into the dark corners of our fears and imaginations. An opportunity to cry out from fake graveyards to the one who has already conquered the grave and is making the world new. On Halloween night, we can pray "come, Lord Jesus!" with unusual urgency, surrounded by evil and death made visible. And we can walk through the valley of the (plastic) shadow of death with our Savior who took on mortal flesh, suffered evil, and died as one of us.

All of that said, I know that some of you choose not to observe Halloween for a variety of reasons, informed by your convictions and experiences and guided by the Holy Spirit. That's wonderful, and we should all be so thoughtful and intentional about how we observe the holidays. This post is simply meant to offer another perspective on an often-maligned day!

Allhallowtide at Incarnation

Tuesday, Oct 31: Halloween

By all means, hang out with your neighbors on Halloween! There's no better night for it.

But if your neighborhood or building doesn't do much on Halloween, or if you'd like to connect with Incarnation's neighbors, please come over to Greenbrier Baptist to hang out around the fire pits. We'll offer marshmallows and hot dogs to the neighbors to roast, and we'll freely dispense some fun-sized, chocolatey grace.

We're hoping for good conversations to build on the momentum of Holy Week and Saint Francis Day at Greenbrier. We'll get started at 6pm and stay till the trick-or-treaters subside, but you can come and go as you please. If you'd like to help set up for this event (a few tables, buckets of candy, firepits), please send me an email!

Sunday, Nov 5: All Saints Sunday

All Saints Day is actually on Wednesday, Nov 1. But when a feast day falls mid-week, we celebrate it on the Sunday afterward. On All Saints Sunday, we give thanks for the lives of all the departed faithful and reflect together on loss and mortality through lighting candles and singing once-a-year hymns. We also take a moment in the service to remember by name those who have died in the past year. Please send Russell a photo and name of anyone you would like included in this time of remembrance by Nov 1:

A few years ago, we preached a sermon series on ordinary saints. Though we considered titling it "Y'All Saints," in the end we called this series "Imitate Me," taken from Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Imitating people who are imitating Christ is such a concrete, visual, and tangible way to grow in the faith. That's what All Saints is all about. If you're curious, you can listen again to all those sermons here — they cover so different ways of living as saints in the world.

Thursday, Nov 9: All Souls Service

All Souls Day is actually Thursday, Nov 2. But your pastors are limited creatures, and there are only so many weeknight events we can pull off in a single week! So we will hold an All Souls service at Greenbrier Baptist on Thursday, Nov 9, at 7pm. This is also our quarterly Healing Eucharist service, so you can expect the same gentle atmosphere of quiet contemplation and prayer, concluding with communion.

We will meditate together on the mystery of death and resurrection, and you are invited to participate by bringing a small item from the natural world representing a personal loss. I'm really looking forward to this service and the opportunity to acknowledge my own grief from the past few years, in communion with all of you, all the saints, and our death-undoing God.


If all this remembrance of death hits a little too close to home this year, please reach out. Katie and I love to meet, listen, and pray with you through all life's joys and sorrows.

With love,



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