Normally, the spookiest parts of October are haunted houses, scary costumes, and horror movie watch parties. COVID-19 has created more panic than ghosts and goblins ever could, to the tune of 229,000 deaths in the United States alone. Some churches around the Inland Northwest have found creative ways to celebrate Halloween this year, while others have decided it’s not worth the risk.
Lake City Church
One of North Idaho’s largest churches continued their annual Halloween traditions this year, but with some important changes. Entitled “Mask Up!”, the Oct. 24 event at Lake City Church included a parade of trunks for trick or treating, food trucks, live music — and mandatory mask compliance. Associate Pastor Andrew Tolson said that unlike years past where attendees could roam around and hang out, there was a queue to stand in and groups were let in at intervals. They estimated 3,000 people came through during the 2-hour occasion.
The congregation of Lake City Church totaled about 1,200 people pre-COVID, and according to Tolson, about 500 people currently attend weekly in-person services while another 400-500 watch via livestream.
Moran United Methodist Church
A South Hill church canceled its annual Fall Festival this year, but found a different way to celebrate. Moran United Methodist Church’s festival usually includes a bounce house, petting zoo, dunk tank and more. But this year, the church is hosting a drive-thru trunk or treat with virtual pumpkin decorating contest from 4-6 p.m. today (Oct. 30) at Moran United Methodist Church, located at 3601 E 56th Ave. in Spokane.
“The pastor team puts the safety of the congregation first and COVID-19 has made in-person gatherings unsafe right now,” said Youth, Children and Family Director Kevin Torres. “We’re having volunteers bring cars and decorate their trunk, be it with spider webs or ghosts or pirate treasure, whatever it is, and when people are going to drive through to see all the trunks and everyone dressed up and then once they go through it, they are going to be able to get bags of candy for the kids. They’re going to be pre-bagged, so there won’t be any need to have face to face contact if they don’t want to and we’ll make sure that no one is getting closer than they need to be.”
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse
A Moscow church has also adjusted its fall and Halloween celebrations to COVID-friendly alternatives. Whereas in the past, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse may have hosted a Halloween party or opened up the church as a place to warm up and visit while trick-or-treating, everything has been moved to Zoom or very small, masked and socially-distanced events this year, said Ginger Yoder, director of Family Ministries.
Yoder said the church has shut down its in-person worship completely and closed the physical building, but it remains active as a community and a faith group. Worship services are held on Zoom each Sunday, and Yoder said attendance is about the same as it was pre-pandemic.
“We know that things must look very different this year and want to help make Halloween special for our kiddos and families no matter each person’s decisions regarding safety,” she said. “We are doing a reverse trick-or-treating, where each child will receive a gift bag with some candy and themed items on their doorstep, putting in all social distancing precautions. We are also hosting a Zoom Costume Party and online Zoom Movie Night. We hope this gives children a sense of connection with their community, with the holiday and with each other.”
Venture Church Palouse
Venture Church, located in downtown Moscow, is changing its normal Halloween events due to COVID, as well as a lack of volunteers. Pastor Scott Underwood said many members of his congregation don’t feel safe participating in certain events, and so they’ve worked to come up with alternatives, one of which was Sunday’s Fall Scavenger Hunt in East City Park hosted by the children’s ministry.
Venture typically hosts a trunk-or-treat that occurs simultaneously with a bigger event that the Moscow Chamber of Commerce organizes. The church’s location is ideal for people to hang out and enjoy face painting, games, trick-or-treating, and other activities, Underwood said, but lower volunteer engagement due to COVID risks has changed things this year.
“There’s a lot of people whose families are dependent upon their incomes and so they don’t want to risk that loss, and I respect that,” he said. “It’s honestly not because trunk-or-treat doesn’t encourage social distancing, because I think it can be done.”
Underwood said Venture had just entered into a tremendous season of growth when COVID arrived on the scene and demanded that they adapt and overcome. They aired on the side of safety and have followed the mandates and precautions set forth by the state and city by going completely online for worship services for a period of time, following a strict mask mandate and canceling other in-person events.
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