Over the last nine years, a new Halloween tradition has developed in the Massey area of west Auckland. Local churches have worked together to create an annual alternative Halloween event for the community, called Stars Party. What started as a small initiative by a few churches has turned into a large community fair. Last year drew 1,850 attendees while this year numbers were up to 2,103. In recent years, several more churches have climbed on board to help run the event, making it truly a community-wide event.
Organizational input, volunteers and congregational donations came from several churches this year: Massey Community Church, Massey Presbyterian, West Harbour Missionary Alliance Church, Westgate Baptist, Westgate Salvation Army, Jyoti Good News Fellowship, Discover Church, and St. Paul's Catholic Church. The event only had a budget of $2,900, but with the help of a grant from the Massey Matters fund that was provided by the Auckland Council, and through people offering their services for free or at a discounted rate, the event was still able to serve increasing numbers of people. Congregations were also asked to contribute lollies, baked goods and prizes.
It's a carnival affair. Each child receives a free ticket which entitles them to the bouncy castle, sausages, icecream, a pony ride, candy floss and other events and activities. Adult tickets entitle them to sausages, ice cream and free kids clothing. There is also face painting, ballooning, army trucks giving rides, the fire brigade, a cafe, and outdoor games. For the last five years, a stage has been added to the event, where various acts perform: cultural dance troupes, youth groups, musical acts, illusionists. And there are also giveaways from the stage. It's a family-friendly event. Attendees are asked not to come wearing scary costumes. You'll be asked to leave any scary mask or paraphernalia at the front area before you can enter the Stars Party, which is an acronym for: Standing for Truth and Righteousness.
Raewyn Moodie, family and community pastor at Westgate Baptist, is the current chief organizer of the event. She explains that initially the idea was launched by a group of members from Westgate Salvation Army and Church of the Good Shepherd (Massey Anglican) because of concern that trick or treaters around West Harbour were intimidating people.
"We teach children stranger danger, but on Halloween we knock on anyone's door . And we tell people 'Don't take lollies from strangers,' but on Halloween we do! It's just completely upside down to all the rules. We tell children to be kind to others but on Halloween we're allowed to knock at the door and say, 'If you don't give me lollies I'm going to egg your house or do something hideous to you.' So it's completely against all the values that, particularly as a teacher, I see that we're teaching through the schools."
Besides getting kids off the streets, the churches are also keen to influence people for Jesus. Raewyn says they want to get the message across that "We as Christians actually don't think that Halloween is a nice thing, but we would like to provide a safe environment for families to come. So the families in the community, most of whom are quite reluctant to go with their kids trick or treating anyway, see this as a very positive atmosphere."
The churches also hope the event is an open door for folks not regularly involved in a church community to meet believers and connect with a church. "We want to make church a friendly place to come," Raewyn says. "So we have people just bowl in off the street, who've never ever been in a church before and then they come into the building for tea or coffee and they have people who are Christians talking to them and serving them and they know this is a bunch of churches that have got together."
The community has noticed the combined effort of these different denominations. Raewyn was at a meeting with council people recently and was told, "We see this as such a great thing that all of you churches are working together." She's also seen a positive response from the local schools who have been more than willing to advertise the event in their newsletters. "They don't want to see their children out on the streets doing this either. So we have a very positive buy in just from that values side of things from our community and from the schools," she says.
"The community looks and go 'What a great thing. The churches can actually work together.' So we need to be doing this a lot more," Raewyn says.