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Ventura County Religion

More Than a Frightening Holiday

Religion: Some denominations are looking for an alternative to Halloween's darker, scarier side.


Not every church or synagogue approves of Halloween.

Some denominations view the day as a secular event with the gravity of, say, Valentine's Day--Halloween is a holiday mainly for children, to be ignored or not, depending on parental preference.

But with increasing frequency, local churches are programming against what they see as Halloween's darker, scarier and--some say--satanic side.

Many churches have begun to offer harvest festivals at Halloween, often inviting the public to join in a family carnival atmosphere that includes hay bales as decor, games such as apple bobbing and other activities like pony rides.

"We're a safe place for kids to go," said Inday Maderazo of Ventura's South Coast Fellowship.

According to Maderazo, costumes are fine as long as they don't include scary witches, ghouls or goblins. Nor are there any tricks--although treats are handed out in the church social hall. Pumpkins are not referred to as Jack-o'-lanterns.

This gentler treatment of Halloween, said Pastor Daniel Hull of Ventura's First Church of the Nazarene, means fewer worries about what might have been inserted into a trick-or-treat apple or candy bar before it was dropped into a goodie sack by a stranger.

"We all went trick or treating as children, but today there's an increasing focus on the dark side of Halloween--with kids getting into trouble or trying risky, scary stuff," said Hull, whose church hosts two harvest festivals on Halloween weekend.

Parents don't want to discourage kids from having fun, said Kathy Grosser and Susan Rodarte, who are staging the youth festivities for the Nazarene church. "Halloween doesn't have to be wicked," said Rodarte.

Many of the customs of Halloween can be traced to the ancient Druids, who held celebrations with bonfires at the beginning of November. Over time, the Christian All Hallow's eve became a feast day, or All Saints Day, according to Compton's and Britannica encyclopedias.

Among those who do not acknowledge Halloween is the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination.

"It's not biblical, and we don't observe what isn't biblical," said Ed Torso, presiding overseer of the Oxnard Central congregation, who added that Halloween has a pagan origin. "That doesn't mean we're dictating to others what to do, though."

Ike Taylor of Oxnard's Bard Road Jehovah's Witness congregation agreed with Torso.

"Such holidays honor spirits of the dead as if they were alive in another realm, and that's contrary to the Bible's description of death as a state of complete unconsciousness," Taylor said.

On the other side of the spectrum are religious leaders like Rabbi Shimon Paskow of Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks. "My own personal opinion is everyone should have a good time--that's all," Paskow said. "I know a lot of churches and synagogues have objections, but I don't. It's for fun."

Like South Coast Fellowship, the approach to Halloween taken by the Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura falls between that of Paskow's and the strict Jehovah's Witnesses. Bible Fellowship puts on a "come one, come all" outdoor harvest festival each Halloween for kids and parents, with games, food and costumes. Thousands of people attend.

"We consider it an outreach to the unchurched community," said Susie DiMaggio, a Bible Fellowship administrator. "We usually draw some 2,000 people."

DiMaggio said that costumes are encouraged, but added, "we stay away from ghouls and goblins. It's not biblical and it scares kids."

Ventura's Grace Baptist Church does not have its own festival, but it encourages its members to attend other church's harvest festivities, said staff member Nancy Treinen.

"We just don't encourage participation in what have become traditional Halloween practices," Treinen said. "I think some of them are satanic and wicked."

First Baptist Church of Carpinteria Pastor Dale Garland agreed.

"Halloween 30 years ago was innocent," Garland said. "I dressed up and went trick or treating. Now I believe it's taking on its original meaning again--more satanic, using black cats, witches, monsters and gory things."

But Garland still likes to dress up in costume on Oct. 31--as the 16th-century religious reformer Martin Luther, who on that date in 1517 nailed his theses to a church door in Germany.



Some of the harvest festivals sponsored by churches around Ventura County include:

* South Coast Fellowship, 4050 Market St., Ventura, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31. Harvest festival-circus costume parade, food court, pony rides. $6 per child at the door includes all rides. Parents welcome. 658-7646.

* All Saints Episcopal Church, 144 South C St., Oxnard, 6 p.m. Oct. 31. All-family Halloween party. 483-2347.

* First Church of the Nazarene, 365 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura, Oct. 28. Apple bobbing, treats, videos, games for youngsters, middle and high school students. Call 643-2273 for times and locations.

* Bible Fellowship Church, 6950 Ralston, Ventura, 5-8:30 p.m. Oct. 31. Festival with games, rides and food booths for all ages. Costumes welcome, but no witches, etc. 656-7766

* Padre Serra Parish, 5205 Upland Road, Camarillo, 5 p.m. Oct. 31. Special All Hallow's Eve pumpkin Mass for all ages. Costumes welcome, along with pumpkins with religious or family symbols, which Father Liam Kidney will bless. 482-6417.

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