I spent a few hours with a small team of volunteers on the streets of Peterborough, England, carving pumpkins on a recent Sunday morning.
These “Sundays out” are a breath of fresh air to me and I’m not ashamed to confess that they are my favorite way of doing church.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good old sing-along and listening to someone preach their heart out, but put me in an environment where I can actually put into practice what I believe and I’m incredibly happy.
So, once a month I drag as many people who will be up for joining me out onto the streets of Peterborough to be among the vast majority of people who wouldn’t consider going to a church service.
Instead, many encounter church out on the streets and on this Sunday in mid-October people encountered a bunch of people carving pumpkins.
Together we carved 38 pumpkins. Each found 38 welcome homes, and we could have carved three times the amount and not satisfied Peterborough’s eager families who wanted to have a free carved pumpkin.
People could choose one of three designs, which corresponded to three different patterns and for each pumpkin we gave away we prayed over the recipient.
However, we were also there to answer questions, get to know people and talk freely about our faith.
What particularly got me this week was the way people connected with the gesture.
Some families commented about how good it was that “the church” was doing this.
One Muslim family encouraged us with what we were doing and wanted to speak about faith and how we were sharing our beliefs with people.
However, alongside meeting people in the hubbub of the city, and while we were giving out our 38 carved pumpkins, there was also a street preacher nearby shouting very loudly.
He wasn’t shouting directly at us, rather at everyone. He was the stereotypical street preacher even down to the grey suit, white hair and big black leather Bible.
While this isn’t an opportunity to pop insults at street preachers worldwide, the contrast between what he was doing and what we were offering was stark. Very stark.
It was as if we were representing two very different ideals and messages. Yet, we were both using similar words in our explanation of what we were doing.
We both used the word “Jesus” a lot. We both used words associated with God’s love. Yet the messages “felt” world’s apart.
The difference in the means of delivery served as an affirmation to me, rather than getting me annoyed at the shouting angry man. What I was reminded about was: “The vessel of the message is as important as the message itself.”
Good news needs to be seen, felt and understood as good news otherwise it is “no news.” It just becomes nonsense.
Our message on that Sunday morning was, I believe, felt and seen through a free carved pumpkin with an accompanying explanation of what the symbols on it meant and with a simple prayer too.
Please, don’t get me wrong: Sharing good news isn’t all about packaging and gimmicks and things.
However, the message more often than not needs fleshing out. It needs a “thing” for which it can then make sense.
If you like, it becomes a prophetic symbol for which the receiver of the symbol gets a load of explanation through the visual aid of the symbol as well as the power of the words that accompany it.
How will you share good news this Halloween?
Chris Duffett is a Baptist minister and evangelist in the United Kingdom. He is a former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and an adviser to the Pioneer Collective, which has a vision of releasing 400 Baptist pioneers over the next four years. He blogs at Be the Light where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @RevDuffett.