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Christian Halloween: Pastor to hold traditional service in NY Mills graveyard

Pastor Ryan Stout of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York Mills is preparing to hold a Halloween church service at the Greenwood Cemetery this Saturday night. Pastor Stout, wearing a cassock and holding an incense burner called a thurible, says Saturday night's service in the graveyard celebrates the Christian traditions of Halloween.

Church tradition and customs of the Middle Ages are not lost to Pastor Ryan Stout and his congregation at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York Mills.

Along with the candy and trick-or-treating, Halloween is often thought of in today's society as a scary night of ghouls, goblins, death, and often evil.

Not so, says Pastor Stout, who plans to hold a non-traditional church service Halloween night in the cemetery.

Despite its image of vampires, werewolves, and walking dead, Halloween is actually an important date on the Christian calendar. It's a holiday associated with Hallowtide, which is a three-day celebration of Halloween (Oct. 31), All Saints Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Stout wants to push aside some of Halloween's scariness and underlying evil, and celebrate the night by resurrecting some of the Christian traditions the holiday holds.

What better way to dig up the overlooked Christian holiday of Halloween by holding a church service in a graveyard... at night, as a light fog slowly creeps over the headstones?

We've come to know Halloween as a fun fright night, perpetuated by spooky cemetery scenes from pop culture icons like Scooby-Doo. Zoinks!

"We tend to think of Halloween as something scary and don't think of it as something associated with Christianity," Stout says. "Some even think of it as anti-Christian."

But that's not the case, religiously speaking. And Stout, a lifelong fan of Halloween, is excited to hold a service at Greenwood Cemetery on the west side of New York Mills, weather permitting, Oct. 31 starting at 7 p.m. Gather at the St. Peter's sign.

The actual liturgy they will be using is taken from an Episcopalian service.

"It's held in the graveyard so that we remember that bodily death is no longer something to fear, but in fact the fulfillment of our Baptism," Stout says.

"Christians daily die to ourselves and rise in Christ the next morning. Our graveyards emphasize the reality of death, and the equally powerful reality of Christ's promise of resurrection."

Stout also points out it's particularly poignant for the three-day Hallowtide, when we celebrate All Saints and All Souls from every time and place-both those generations who have died before us, and those yet unborn.

"It's a celebration of hope and new life right in the face of the concrete reality of our own mortality," he said.

Pastor Stout chose four Biblical readings for this service, to be read by members of the church. Those interested in attending the service will meet in the cemetery, and it's a good idea to bring a flashlight.

Different points along the walking service will have people set up to do readings, and act out different scenes in the Bible.

Readers will be dressed in costume to fit the appropriate Bible passage. Stout expects to see a witch, possibly a skeleton and other characters with Halloween and Biblical associations.

The walking service will follow a path from reading to reading with the route forming a cross through the cemetery.

"We're not doing anything weird," Stout claims. "We're reclaiming the Christian roots of Halloween."

Halloween is tied directly to All Saints Day, which is celebrated each year on Nov. 1 to commemorate the old saints who have passed on.

"The idea is not to be macabre or to be flippant regarding death and those who mourn," Stout says. "There is a time in the church year when we take mourning and death very seriously indeed. That's Lent and Good Friday. But the Hallowtide is when we remember that death is not the end, and that in the Cross of Christ-an instrument of death which has become a symbol of faith, hope and love-there is no place so dark, so gritty, so scary or defiled that it can separate us from the promises of our Lord."