The three days of Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are special to Rev Michael Brantley, the interim Priest in Charge in the Parish of Wadestown. They offer us a chance to remember and reflect, but for some, attending traditional church services for this season is a daunting and intimidating experience. So Michael tried something different: he invited people to the local pub.
“We had about 20 people come, with maybe 70% of them being Christians, most of whom had personally lost someone in the recent past, and several of the non-Christians who came were guests of parishioners,” Michael said. He had organised with the publican at the Sprig and Fern, the nearest pub to St Luke’s in Wadestown, to have a room available for commuters on their way home between 5 and 7pm. “It was a great event for those people to have a soft connect to God, the church and Christians. It was the safe place, the unpretentious and unguarded gathering of people with a common draw and common journey.”
So why a pub? “It is safe, common turf… not an intimidating church, Michael says. “[It provides a] disarming social context around a table. People naturally talk and share, and this even framed the conversation by the nature of being there.”
Those that attended the gathering certainly did find it a safe place, and some allowed Michael to share their story. “One person said, ‘My mum has been gone two years now. It’s time for me to begin to process it, which I’ve not done until now.’ Another shared, “My mum has been gone for over twenty years, and it’s like yesterday. I remember when she would…’ Another shared that her best friend was dying, now in late stage 4 cancer in the South Island, and though she’s made trips down, she laments not being able to be there more. One person came because a friend at work shared the advert. Another from the mail drop we did for the suburbs of the parish, and another brought a friend with her.”
What made the event work, says Michael, were the parishioners who came and were part of holding the atmosphere of the event. “Inviting a couple of saints who know how to help hold that space was awesome. They could facilitate connecting people and helping conversation,” Michael says.
And that wasn’t the only initiative the parish took to make All Souls’ Day. The church was open from 6:30 in the morning, and Michael was available throughout the day for those in need of a chat or for prayer. Around 40 people came during the day, and some took him up on the offer, while others were happy to sit, reflect, pray, and maybe light a candle.
This was a great start and provided the space for different people at different points on the journey, Michael says. “The Christians had opportunity to grieve in a worship space. The seekers who ventured into the church tasted the restful peace. Those who wanted to turn towards God, but felt the building was intimidating, got to brush against God and Christians and be valued, heard and loved.”
“It was a solid first go experiment. I will definitely do this again. Low maintenance, low prep, and great personal connection with people who never would have come to church otherwise. We’ll see the ‘next’ as it unfolds!”
Hallow’s Eve was taken over by Halloween, adopting pagan, ancient Celtic traditions of Jack-o-Lanterns, Scare crows and masks to scare off the spirits in the shortening cooling days of autumn, when they believed the physical and spiritual worlds were only thinly separated and spirits could cross over. We have lost that reflection on the reality of our mortal lives, that All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days bring us to face. All Saints’ Day traditionally celebrating all the Saints (Holy or set apart). I like to mark all the saints – all Christians – who live ordinary lives yet living extraordinarily as they follow Him. At All Souls’ Day, there is a complex dual part of processing the remaining grief, but also remembering those who have died, those we miss and love. It is also telling of our whakapapa to others we love. I wanted to provide for both sides of this day.
Why did I feel the need to explore and experiment with something new and different?
Most people are not drawn to the sombre All Souls’ Day services of the past. Some are drawn to church, and can access it, but really want the space to reflect. Most people though, especially those with no church connection, may never have had anything to do with church and Christians other than a funeral or a wedding . They especially find coming to a service, especially one on All Souls’ Day , overwhelming. Therefore, I began wrestling with what could we do to touch lives, for saints and people with whom to date we’ve had no contact , decided to experiment and see what stuck.