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HEADLINE: Thanks to the Holy Spirit, First Lutheran’s “Reverse Trick or Treating” gambit leads to another act of kindness

By Pastor Devlyn Brooks

On the afternoon of Halloween 2023, First Lutheran Church Administrator Laurie Zelinsky and Financial Assistant Inez Florez found themselves locked out of the apartment building that sits across the street from their church in Battle Lake.

On a mission to spread a little holiday cheer, plus possibly connect with a neighbor or two, the two First Lutheran emissaries hadn’t counted on the fact that the building’s outer door might be locked to those who aren’t residents.

But undaunted, the pair repeatedly used the building’s intercom system to reach someone -- anyone! -- who might be home in the apartments and could let the pair in so that they could leave a Halloween goodie bag hanging from each of the apartments’ doorknobs.

They called the initiative “Reverse Trick or Treating.”

Although they didn’t have much luck reaching anyone inside, fortunately not long after, a young couple who lived in the apartment building happened by, and after the two church staff explained their joyful plan, they were let inside to complete their sweet mission.

Evidence that when we’re willing and able to spread a little neighborly love, the Holy Spirit will help us find a way!

Meanwhile, First Lutheran Church Pastor Lynn Melchior and Faith Formation Director Missi Abfalter comprised a second group of happy Halloween spirits who canvassed other neighbors who shared boundaries with the church.

That afternoon, two groups from First Lutheran delivered 39 treat bags containing chocolate, mini-size Tootsie pops, a magnet that said, “You are a blessing,” the pastor’s business card, and a caring message that said: “We think it’s a real treat that you’re our neighbor” to all of the neighbors that physically surround their church building in Battle Lake.

“We weren’t trying to preach the gospel. It was just purely giving; it was pure loving,” Pastor Melchior said. “That’s all it was, was loving our neighbors.”

In all, Pastor Melchior said it cost her church $20 in candy treats, a few bucks worth of magnets and some paper for the neighborly message. And, of course, some time out on the street. The bags were handed out at a prior Northwestern Minnesota Synod Vitality Day, at which the “Reverse Trick or Treating” initiative was held up as an example of community outreach.

And although the church’s investment was minimal, the jubilant pastor said, the dividends were large.

“People were genuinely surprised,” she said. “Quite frankly … they were astonished.”

Besides just being fun, sneaking around being anonymous Halloween spooks doling out free candy actually plays into a larger initiative at First Lutheran in which Pastor Melchior and the congregation are actively looking for more opportunities to focus their mission and ministry on the many people in their community who are outside the four walls of their church. An effort that has spawned ideas such as craft retreats, “Holy Hop” afternoons at local restaurant/bars during which they play board games and a weekly after school program for any children, regardless if they are church members.

Proof that the Holy Spirit was involved in First Lutheran’s “Reverse Trick or Treating” effort came at the end of the day, according to Pastor Melchior.

While she was leaving the yard of a house where she had left a bag on the front door’s knob, the resident of the house came out to see if Pastor Melchior needed anything. She explained that no, the church staff was just visiting neighbors and leaving them a little sweet treat. They were calling it “Reverse Trick or Treating.”

The woman, delighted by the thoughtful idea, then introduced herself and explained that she had been the one to recently drop off a handful of wooden fobs that contained a burnt wood message that said, “I can” on one side, and “with Jesus” on the other -- at the church. And she wondered if Pastor Melchior might be able to assist her with bringing some more of the fobs down to the local nursing home. The pastor said that once they finished delivering all of their bags, she’d happily come back to give the woman the ride she needed.

After they had delivered the heartfelt homemade messages of love to the nursing home, the lady shared with Pastor Melchior that she was so grateful that she would go to such lengths to help someone who wasn’t a member of her church.

No surprise there when the Holy Spirit is involved: One act of kindness led directly to another.

“Churches can act like a silo, and we’re trying to break down that silo,” Pastor Melchior said. “We’re supposed to be growing outward in our faith. Instead of standing and facing the cross, we should be facing the windows and what’s out there!”