Churches get creative with trunk or treats, digital scavenger hunts and pumpkin patches
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
A number of churches in the Texas Annual Conference are making sure that the fun continues this fall and still hosting their traditional pumpkin patches and trunk-or-treats. These congregations realize that children look forward to the changing weather, decorating pumpkins and preparing their Halloween costumes. They refuse to let COVID-19 hamper fall festivities -- and instead are offering opportunities for safe fellowship. These events also serve as a reminder that the church still welcomes neighbors with open arms.
Trunk or Treat at FUMC Winona
Instead of knocking on doors, children are invited to trick-or-treat in a field of parked and decorated cars at FUMC Winona, 206 Tyler St in Winona. The annual Trunk or Treat at the church starts at 6 p.m. and promises food, fun and candy.
Pastor Dan Vickers explained that the tradition started well before he was appointed to serve the church in 2018. Children look forward to attending each year – and the church enjoys hosting them.
While other churches were canceling their fall events, but Vickers wanted to offer an alternative for the children. “Everyone wears a mask anyway, because it’s Halloween,” he said with a laugh. “Why not go ahead and do it?”
Church members park in the front and decorate their cars. They also prepare hot chocolate and start popping popcorn. There will also be fall games set up between the vehicles.
“We want to give the kids a little something extra,” Vickers said. “Last year, lots of kids came by. We’re expecting another great turnout for this trunk or treat.”
The pastor added that offering children a way to still celebrate Halloween, especially during a year of so many other canceled events and festivities was important. “It’s fun to give the kids something to do, something positive and something safe,” he said.
Vickers added that Trunk or Treat serves as a chance for fellowship and community outreach. “We want to show them that the church is here -- and we care about you,” he said.
Pumpkin Patch at Huntsville FUMC
The Pumpkin Patch at Huntsville FUMC is far from being canceled. In fact, this one will be the biggest and best yet.
Youth director Kelsey Houser explained that in 2019, the church sold out of pumpkins. “This year is probably the biggest we’ve ever had,” she said. “We even added more photo opps. It feels like we’re spreading some joy and normalcy during this time.”
Shoppers are invited to pick out their favorite pumpkins through Oct. 31 at the church’s courtyard, 1016 Sam Houston Avenue in Huntsville. Hours are from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon until 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Houser said that the pumpkin patch has been around for at least 20 years. “It’s getting to be a staple in our community in the fall,” she explained.
Proceeds go to the church’s summer camps and mission trips, mainly at U.M. ARMY and Lakeview Methodist Conference Center. Pumpkins range in price from 50 cents to $25 depending on size.
Houser said that events are planned throughout the fall, including a “Blessing of the Animals” and a pumpkin carving contest. “All of the families get a table, pick out a pumpkin from the patch and carve it, paint it or decorate however they want,” she said.
Relational ministry is essential to Houser – and the pumpkin patch offers a venue to draw closer with family and with the church. “I want to provide opportunities for people to do life together,” she said. “It’s so much easier to love Jesus, when you’re not by yourself.”
Picking up pumpkins at Memorial Drive UMC
Chances are, even if residents of Houston’s Memorial area have never heard of Memorial Drive UMC, they have at least stopped for a photo at the church’s annual pumpkin patch, Youth Director Mark Bogart said.
And even the coronavirus could not stop the congregation from holding this fundraiser. Already, attendance has been high and demand for pumpkins great, Bogart explained. “We had to expedite another truck,” he added. “It’s been unprecedented, how many we’ve sold. If we continue at this rate, we could be looking at an all-timer.”
Bogart said that Memorial Drive UMC has welcomed the community to its pumpkin patch for at least the past 30 years. “Every single time we raise support for our big summer mission trips,” he said. “It pays for materials and helps subsidize the costs for students.”
The church wanted to continue supporting the pumpkin farmers who make the event possible. “We also felt like we owed it to our students and families,” Bogart said. “We owed it our community.”
Memorial Drive UMC took extra precautions to keep the patch safe during COVID-19. For instance, instead of an assembly line of volunteers unloading trucks, this year, a conveyor belt was used.
Hosting the pumpkin patch each year is a way to welcome neighbors to campus, Bogart said. “if they leave going, ‘How cool,’ that’s a win,” he added. “If they take a card inviting them to worship, even better. That’s our aim, just to be servants, to serve the community.”
The Pumpkin Patch is open through October, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday at 12955 Memorial Dr. in Houston.
Fall fun at St. Luke’s UMC Kilgore
St. Luke’s UMC Kilgore has a full calendar of activities planned for fall, including virtual options. The church’s Pumpkin Patch is open daily through October from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. St. Luke’s is located at 401 E. Main St. in Kilgore.
Senior Pastor Ben Bagley said the patch has been in operation for the past 21 years. Finding a way to keep the tradition took a lot of prayer, as well as the creativity of dedicated staff. “What can we do safely so that we still have ministries?” he asked. “We knew our pumpkin patch was going to look different in a couple of regards.”
Instead of being a fundraiser this year, Bagley decided to cut the cost of the pumpkins, charging about half as much as usual to accommodate individuals who lost their jobs or faced economic hardship due to the pandemic. “We wanted to offer families an experience this year even if funds were not available,” he said. “We wanted to make sure people still had the opportunity to get a pumpkin.”
In addition, St. Luke’s Kilgore created a digital scavenger hunt in the Pumpkin Patch for children who wanted to try the challenge. By scanning a QR code at the church, participants will find a list of hidden items.
There is also a pumpkin carving contest at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24. The community is invited to show off their carving skills for a chance to win a prize.
Since area schools were not able to go to the pumpkin patch for their usual fieldtrips this year, St. Luke’s found a way to bring the experience to them with their Storytime Boxes. Each kit comes completes with a storybook, photo prop and one pumpkin patch coloring and activity book per student, as well as a mini pumpkin for each child. There’s also a recording of the story on the church’s YouTube page. Teachers and parents can request a Storytime Box online at stlukeskilgore.com.
Bagley said that at first, the church was uncertain if schools would be interested the boxes. In the first couple of weeks, however, packages were already sent to about 22 classrooms. “God works in mysterious ways,” the pastor said. “It’s a little way to give teachers a field trip without having to leave the room.”
St. Luke’s Kilgore is hosting its third annual Pumpkin Run 5K at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24. The race begins and finishes at the church. There are options to walk or run the course – or participate virtually. The run is a fundraiser for youth programs and missions.
The church’s Trunk-or-Treat is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct 28 at the campus’ Family Center. Bagley encourages families to wear masks under their costumes.
“It’s about offering church in an environment that is fun and simple,” Bagley said. “It’s an opportunity to get people comfortable with being around the church – and vice versa. It’s a great opportunity for the church to be the church – and interact with the community.”