This is an artilce from Faith in Action, News & Views from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. At first I was skeptical but as I read the article and Rev. Fowler said, “Nothing is scarier than a life out on the streets without a family, a church or a support system.” she had me convinced that this is a very good thing. Her point about missing out on the youth of today was also a valid point. We’ve got to reach people where they are and go from there. Too often church is seen as an “old stick in the mud” or a place where folks are caught up putting on airs of perfection–I hope you enjoy the article.
The Rev. Faith Fowler, dressed as a ghoul, welcomes thrill-seekers to the haunted house at Cass Community United Methodist Church in Detroit. (UMNS photo by Jamey Tucker)
DETROIT (UMNS) — The Rev. Faith Fowler leans a wooden staff against the wall as she straightens her robe. More than 100 people soon will walk through the doors of CASS Community United Methodist Church in downtown, and she wants to be ready.
Fowler’s job on this cool October night is to welcome the young people, families and others who will visit the church as Halloween approaches.
Fowler’s welcome to them, however, will not be what you typically expect from a pastor. Just before the doors open, she picks up a latex mask of a wild snarling animal and pulls it over her head. For the fifth year in a row, the pastor will try to scare the daylights out of everybody who enters.
For the fifth year in a row, the pastor will try to scare the daylights out of everybody who enters.
Since 2003, CASS has operated a haunted house during the Halloween season to raise funds for the church’s extensive neighborhood ministries. The efforts generate up to $15,000 annually that go toward caring for the homeless, mentally challenged and mentally ill, as well as at-risk youths and senior adults.
The spook house is an effective fundraiser in the CASS community, according to Fowler, who described it as one of the most urban areas of the United States.
“Most of the traditional fundraisers wouldn’t work [here],” Fowler says. “A church supper? Homeless aren’t going to pay to eat here. A rummage sale? They just didn’t fit this neighborhood.”
The church’s “Detroit Urban Legends Haunted House,” however, draws mostly students from nearby colleges who gladly pay $10 for a 20-minute walk or run through the spooky maze. “We’ll get a couple thousand kids through and we’ll raise 10- to 15-thousand dollars,” Fowler says.
Following its calling
Similar church-sponsored Halloween events tend to be evangelical in nature, leading patrons through “judgment houses” that attempt to depict heaven and hell. But Fowler says those wouldn’t fit her neighborhood’s demographic.
Young people in our city know what hell is like.
“Young people in our city know what hell is like,” Fowler says. “Last week, seven were shot dead in high school. Homeless kids know what hell is like.”
Using classrooms and the basement in its 127-year-old church building, CASS’s haunted house opens with Fowler whacking a heavy chain against the walls. Once inside, patrons wind through a dark maze, where monsters, ghosts and other scary creatures jump out of the darkness and scream.
“We sometimes say our slogan is ‘CASS church will scare the hell out of you,'” Fowler jokes. “That’s as religious as this event is. It is simply meant to scare people.
“There’s nothing real, there’s no devil here. Nobody’s going to get hurt, nobody’s going to be touched. We simply want to raise money and have some good old-fashioned fun and build community through the event. We’ve been successful with that.”
CASS Community, with about 100 church members, has had the same mission for more than 60 years, according to Fowler.
“Once the Great Depression hit, two out of three people in Detroit lost their homes,” Fowler explains. “This congregation exhausted its endowment to begin a soup kitchen that’s never stopped. We do three meals a day, seven days a week, 20,000 meals a week.”
The church has eight buildings for ministries and missions designed to care for vulnerable people. There are two free medical clinics, a shelter for homeless women and children, and transitional housing for people who are one step from leaving homelessness behind.
Those familiar with the church say its Halloween fundraiser is a testament to its ministries and the people it serves. Nothing is scarier, they note, than a life out on the streets without a family, a church or a support system.
Nothing is scarier than a life out on the streets without a family, a church or a support system.
Linda MacNeill was a $500-a-day heroin addict who supported her drug habit through prostitution. With the help of CASS Community Social Services, she kicked her addiction, got married, started a business and now worships and volunteers at the church.
“All of those proceeds go to keeping women and children together who are homeless, and to give them a sense of family and a sense of belonging,” MacNeill says.
With the help of CASS, Michael Mason kicked his own drug addiction and left a life on the street. He volunteers at the haunted house every year.
“Tonight, I’m serving as security and I enjoy that because I like watching them run out,” a grinning Mason says.
Many teenagers do run out. A teen boy bursts through the exit doors and barely hits the ground before he’s 30 yards down the street. Ten minutes later, a young girl bolts out with tears in her eyes. “No way,” she says. “I can’t do it, no way.”
Fowler believes opening the church doors to the neighborhood, even with the intention of scaring people, is perfectly appropriate for a church serving the community. She thinks it may be a good introduction to CASS Community for young people who might come to a haunted house but would never darken the church’s doors for a worship service.
“I wrestle with the church not relating to young people,” Fowler says, “and the fact that we might suffer some level of extinction within my lifetime if we don’t find ways to talk to people about what’s really relevant and how they can live out their faith.”
But first is to care for people in need. “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison, and what did you do?” Fowler quotes from
“You need to do something,” Fowler emphasizes, “and that’s what this is about.”
Editor’s note: This article was written for United Methodist News Service by JameyTucker, a freelance producer in Nashville.
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