- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

While teen-age tricksters and costumed tots surely will be on the prowl in area neighborhoods tonight, others will be busy learning the story of Noah's Ark and touring the belly of the great fish that imprisoned Jonah.

In Woodbridge, Va., Cecil Hylton Memorial Chapel's "Hallelujah House," with its smoke-filled rooms and special effects, has the look and feel of a commercial "haunted house."

But there's one big difference: While haunted houses often feature witches, werewolves and vampires, the Hallelujah House celebrates the biblical adventures of Joshua, Jonah and Jesus.

Halloween's non-Christian origins, coupled with the reluctance of some parents to turn their children loose on local streets, often prompts houses of worship to get creative this time of year.

"Unlike other holidays, there isn't really a wholesome connotation with Halloween," said the Rev. Doug Sweigert, who has helped set up "harvest" parties for Derwood Bible Church in Montgomery County, Md.

Today's celebration of Halloween is "really a modern version of ancient, satanic traditions which were originated by the pagan Celtic religion and their druid priests, long before Christianity," according to Dale A. Robbins' book "What People Ask About The Church."

The author quotes the Dictionary of the Occult and Paranormal as stating: "Halloween was originally a pagan festival of darkness, fire and death."

Churches and religious institutions are left to decide how they want to treat the popular American holiday. Some take no position while others take a more strict anti-Halloween stance.

Certain churches hold Bible studies that address what God says about the occult. Many parishioners tonight will hand out along with candy Christian tracts geared toward children.

In Lynchburg, Va., Liberty University students take visitors on "ScareMare," a frightening tour depicting drug overdoses and drunken driving deaths. The purpose is to ask the shocked participants whether they are ready to die and whether or not they know God.

Last year, the event drew 21,506 visitors and 4,300 "professed spiritual decisions," according to the ScareMare Web site.

The Hallelujah House, which has its final run tonight, features Bible stories brought to life by means of actors, props and effects in seven rooms of the Prince William County, Va., chapel.

At the end of the tour, modern themes like abortion and divorce are addressed, and at one point, an actor dressed as Jesus dies and is resurrected.

"We want secular people to come. Our No. 1 goal is to see people saved," said Brad Lewis, coordinator of the event.

Hallelujah House, in its fourth year, involves about 75 volunteers who took a week to set up. Children line up in the parking lot for a glimpse of what's inside.

"I do have a problem with dressing kids up like a demon or a vampire," said Mr. Lewis, who also is youth pastor at Montclair Tabernacle Church of God in Dumfries. "There is an alternative to all the evil stuff out there."

Places of worship like Derwood Bible Church won't pass judgment on families that want to imbibe in trick-or-treating, but members often are treated to teen ministry costume parties or "harvest" parties that offer horseback riding, food and games.

"We don't want our children to grow up in an atmosphere where they view Christianity as a religion of don'ts," Mr. Sweigert said.

Children who attend Ashton United Methodist Church in Ashton, Md., were feted with a Halloween party Saturday night.

The children dressed in costumes, "but they weren't supposed to wear scary ones," said church member Nancy Thomas. Older children set up a haunted house at the church and parents watched their little ones from a close distance.

A haunted house in the basement of Arlington United Methodist Church featured a "Martha Stewart Gone Bad" theme, where spaghetti doubled for intestines. Primarily for the smallest children, the event also featured trick-or-treating.

"We must have had 75 kids there," said youth director Jason Bates. "It was a zoo."

He said he made sure to "police" the haunted house so no one would leave mortified or offended. Hosting a haunted house in a church is something Mr. Bates grapples with at times, but so far no one has complained.

"To the kids that we're catering to, Halloween is just dressing up and getting candy. It's not a theological discussion," he said. "It doesn't interfere with church teaching."

Montgomery and Fairfax counties have no Halloween curfews. Prince George's County will enforce its normal 10 p.m. weekday curfew for unsupervised children younger than 17. The District of Columbia will enforce its normal 11 p.m. weekday curfew for unsupervised children younger than 17.

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