colorful-coatAs they drove past St. Philips Orlando on October 27, passersby saw a strange sight: an eight-foot-tall Goliath glowering from the back of a parked car. Even odder, a line of children took turns twirling a slingshot and launching a Nerf “stone” at the cutout giant. But judging from the smiles and giggles, participants were having a blast. An adult volunteer read a minute-long Bible story about David and Goliath before the children filled their bags with treats and moved on to the next larger-than-life character.

For more than 100 children, a row of eight parked cars brought the Old Testament to life at St. Philip’s third annual Trunk or Treat. An array of stuffed animals climbed into the side of a minivan decorated like Noah’s ark. Joseph was clad in what appeared to be a Technicolor dream coat. Another car’s trunk, filled with plants and a baby doll in a basket, depicted “Moses and the Bulrushes,” while a teen girl stood beside it dressed like Pharaoh’s daughter. Nearby, children tried on a lion costume and posed for pictures beside a hatchback containing Daniel and the lion’s den. Another bumper sported a gigantic whale ready to swallow a runaway prophet.

goliath“It doesn’t take much to dress up a car,” says Cathy Cox, wife of the Rev. John Cox. But it’s clear how much time and talent the former Disney costume designer invested in the event. The biblical scenes, thoughtfully designed and executed, were a departure from the highly stylized, gory, magic-themed displays at many of Orlando’s theme parks, but impressive in their own right. Cathy and fellow artist Sandy Bonus used four eight-foot sheets of pink foam board, similar to the insulation that goes behind walls, to create characters like Goliath and Jonah’s whale. Cathy’s friend traced on the sheets and cut out figures with a jigsaw, then Cathy painted the scenes. Youth Minister Michael Arola and Children’s Minister Stephanie Carlson assisted with other aspects of event planning and John put up signage around the neighborhood.

Their hard work paid off. The festival opened at 4 pm with praise and worship from St. Philip’s worship team; kids sat down on small chairs and volunteers passed out instruments for them to play. Then the children circulated from car to car, listening to stories and collecting candy. Meanwhile, an artist did face painting and kids participated in hula hooping contests and sack races or munched on hot dogs and treats. The final trunk stop was a gospel presentation of John 3:16, with an opportunity for children to make a commitment to Christ.

“The Lord knows who called upon His name, and He began a good work that day in the lives of those kids,” John says.

As parents escorted their children from trunk to trunk, many adults enjoyed hearing the 30-second or two-minute version of each Bible story read by a volunteer. “We’ve never heard that story before!” some exclaimed. Whether churched or unchurched, they expressed gratitude for a safe but exciting alternative to Halloween’s Satanic overtones.

“Even if young families are just nominal Christians, they are trying to be normal and safe on Halloween,” John says, a Certified Addictions Professional who also offers support services to people in crisis. “Families like that there is something safe during the day that’s not scary or going to freak their little ones out.”

baby-mosesSt. Philip’s Trunk or Treat accomplishes the same goal as the church’s Resurrection Easter Egg Hunt in the spring: providing the community with a safe, fun holiday activity that they know and love, while “working to enrich the community, getting people the help they need and providing community support.” The Trunk or Treat also joins a movement in the larger church world to reinstate biblical characters into fall festivities, returning to the original motivation for All Saints Day.

Moreover, John and Cathy loved that the Trunk or Treat was a way to involve each member of the congregation in outreach. With a little creativity and imagination, even those in their 70s and 80s participated in reading Bible stories to the children or leading a game.

“Thanks to everyone involved, the children got to enjoy God and got to meet Him, and people in the community learned we aren’t out to get them to go to church,” says Fr. John. “We built relationships with our neighbors, we’re ready for their crises, and just did a fall family thing with the kids.”

Learn more at St Philips.