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Christian muggles learn from Harry Potter


2:00 P.M. EDT July 22, 2011

Quincy Community United Methodist Church in Quincy, Mass., is transformed into Hogwarts during a Harry Potter-themed party at the church. Photo courtesy of Julie McKeon.
Quincy Community United Methodist Church in Quincy, Mass.,
is transformed into Hogwarts during a Harry Potter-themed
party at the church. Photo courtesy of Julie McKeon.

In June of 1997, the world — and the Christian faith — was introduced to a piece of work that would spark controversy and discussion: Harry Potter. In the subsequent 14 years, the book series has reached its conclusion, and, as of July 15, the movie adaptations have as well.

Many Christians denounced the series as promoting witchcraft and recruiting children into the occult, but others embraced author J.K. Rowling’s take on the classic good vs. evil fairytale. Some even found spiritual depth and biblical parallels in the books and have used the boy wizard to enlighten, to examine Christianity and to entertain children and adults alike.

Debra Dean Murphy, assistant professor of religion and Christian education at West Virginia Wesleyan College, believes the Potter books are excellent Christian teaching tools because they’re ultimately a story of “inexhaustible, unmitigated, constant, courageous love.”

“Just as Christians believe that the universe exists and coheres by divine love, Harry Potter and his friends (and enemies) come to know of the transformative power of love,” Murphy said. “What we learn from these marvelous books and films – just as we do from the story of our Christian faith – is that love wins.”

Around Halloween each year in Quincy, Mass., Quincy Community United Methodist Church mysteriously transforms into Hogwarts School, complete with locations from the books such as Gringott’s, Diagon Alley and the Great Hall. Many staff members play favorite characters, including Hagrid, Mad-Eye Moody and Professors Trelawney and Snape.

Festivities mimic events from the books, including the Sorting Ceremony, a Defense Against the Dark Arts class and a Horcrux scavenger hunt. Quincy’s pastor, the Rev. Susan F. Jarek-Glidden (who also plays Professor McGonagall every year), said the idea started simply in 2004 and grew into a far-reaching project.

Children play a game of Quidditch at the “Disciples or Muggles” camp created by the Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference. A UMNS photo courtesy of Bridgett Perry.
Children play a game of Quidditch at the “Disciples or Muggles” camp created by the Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Bridgett Perry.
View in Photo Gallery

“It was my first year in this appointment and I thought it'd be a great way of telling the community, ‘Hey, we're here!’”

Because Quincy is a large city, it's also a way for kids in the community to have a safe, happy and truly magical Halloween.

“And believe me, it is magical,” Jarek-Glidden said. “Not only the kids, but the adults really get into it. For a few hours, everybody's everyday worries and problems go away, and everyone is immersed in a magical realm where anything is possible.”

The Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference also celebrates the Potter series, but in the summer. For the past seven years, the conference’s camping and retreat ministry has set up an entire camp experience — “Disciples or Muggles?” — around the books.

Themes from the stories are used as devotions, and the lake cabins are converted into the four Hogwarts “houses.” A mischievous prankster — Peeves the Poltergeist, perhaps? — runs around the grounds causing mayhem. Children even play Quidditch using swimming pool noodles and hula hoops.

“Campers are given the opportunity to become a disciple of Christ either for the first time or to renew their commitment to him. The books and movies tie in so perfectly with Christian themes, and, in reading the campers’ evaluations after camp, it is very apparent they ‘get it’ and make the connection,” said the Rev. Teri Johnson, who wrote the camp curriculum.

‘Read before condemning’

Unfortunately, churches trying to share the positive messages of Harry Potter sometimes court controversy.

When the third book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," was released, Elk Grove (Calif.) United Methodist Church partnered with the Sacramento Cokesbury store for a midnight book sale.

The Rev. Susan F. Jarek-Glidden plays Professor McGonagall at Quincy (Mass.) Community United Methodist Church. At right is her husband, the Rev. Tony “Mad-Eye Moody” Jarek-Glidden. Photo courtesy of Julie McKeon.
The Rev. Susan F. Jarek-Glidden plays Professor McGonagall at Quincy (Mass.) Community United Methodist Church. At right is her husband, the Rev. Tony “Mad-Eye Moody” Jarek-Glidden. Photo courtesy of Julie McKeon. View in Photo Gallery

Leading up to the sale, the church put together a Harry Potter Fair, with trivia and costume contests, movies, crafts, food and classes for both children and adults on finding God in Harry Potter.

“It was great fun, and lots of people who had never been to our church came,” said the Rev. Kathy La Point-Collup, Elk Grove’s pastor.

But not everyone in the community was pleased to see a church embrace wizards and witches and, like the meanest bullies from the House of Slytherin, they set out to spoil everything.

“Some of the fundamentalist churches in town condemned us for even reading Harry Potter, much less having an event centered on it,” La Point-Collup said. “One church even sent people to cause havoc in our classes – which did not work.”

The plan backfired. La Point-Collup said the protests actually helped the church.

“The condemnation by these churches created a great interest in our church on the part of many who had written the Christian church off as judgmental and not relevant. We became known as a church where all were welcome and thinking, exploring and discussing were valued. We are the quadrilateral in action,” she said.

“What was amazing is the majority of these detractors had never even picked up a Harry Potter book. When I told them that the Harry Potter books were very similar to the Narnia books, they were shocked. I encouraged them to read before condemning.”

*Cross is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Showing 7 comments

  • Devin26 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    It's interesting to me that fantasy lierature written by names like C.S Lewis and J.R Tolkien that involve magic, characters like witches and strange creatures, and carry themes based on enchantments of good and evil are approved by the Christian Community based soley on who the authors are presumed to be. Harry Potter isn't at all different in it's content except that people think J.K. Rowling is into witchcraft and that she is trying to promote it. Here is what Rowling herself has to say of her books..            " Rowling told reporters during a press conference at the beginning of her Open Book Tour on Monday. It wasn't because she was afraid of inserting religion into a children's story. Rather, she was afraid that introducing religion (specifically Christianity) would give too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.
    "To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious," she said. "But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going." http://www.mtv.com/news/articl...     
    Point blank, if the public knew that Harry was an obvious "Christ figure"; put in literature terms, it might too easily give away the ending. Most readers of the Narnia Chronicles after having figured Aslan out, could rest assure that his death would be certain as a means of sacrafice. I don't think what the Church is doing is replacing biblical teaching with fantasy literature, but rather, trying to reach out and touch the hearts of children and community in the same way that churches use fictional works like Narnia or Lord of the Rings. If your gonna bash Rowling, than you'd better stick to your story and bash Lewis and Tolkein.
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  • Eric Doolittle 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    What a creative way to borrow from contemporary culture to preach the Good News. This program follows the examples  of great Christian educators like C.S. Lewis, Paul (ie - at the Areopagus), and Jesus (quoting and expounding on popular sayings and stories). If the scriptures themselves use myth and fables (aka parables) to tell the greater truth of the God's work of salvation, why should we?
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  • lucy1925 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    One doesn't have to play with fire to know that it burns.  All through out Scripture it says to guard our hearts and in Ephesians 6:11-12 it tells us to put on the "whole armor of God". When bringing new ones to Christ, they do not, yet, have the "whole armor of God" guarding their hearts.  How can we expect them to come into the magical world of Harry Potter and embrace Christ when all the whimsical of these books/movies point to wizardry, sorcery, spells, etc.--this being in total contradiction of what the Scripture warns of in Deuteronomy 18:9-12a.  Again, one doesn't have to play with fire to know that it burns. I have always taught my children that playing with fire isn't safe. As they mature, and understand the pros and cons, or the good and evil, then I cautiously introduce them, little by little, in how fire can be good, as well as how it can be bad.  I feel this same approach should be taken with the Harry Potter series. To understand what knowledge can be taken away from this series, one should already be a mature Christian. Otherwise one is opening up the door for the enemy to get a strong-hold on a new Christian's heart; trapping them into the snare of this adversary.  Don't be foolish with these new Christians--teach them, first, to "put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle
    not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against
    powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against
    spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
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  • barbs50 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    As you teach you children that playing with fire is not safe, do you keep them from birthday candles and campfires with toasted marshallows?  I used those times as learning experiences even at the youngest age.  The same is true of literature like Harry Potter.  Often keeping them away or forbidding them fosters an unhealthy interest in those very things.  Expose them and be therre to explain how they can be example or modern day parables about our faith and beliefs.  Jesus used parables in his teaching.  I was there when my child read a book or watched something to ask questions and answer them.  They can be perfect learning experiences and faith and life, about good and evil.
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  • John Burton, An author, teacher, messenger and revivalist 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    This grieves me.
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  • Pudno 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    How have you discipled the young and the old to become faithful "disciples" of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Savior of the world through the series stories/movies of Harry Potter? Does Christian Education mission statement and objectives been achieved in the learning, knowing  and experiencing God through Jesus Christ  in these series of stories in celebrating Harry Potter in your community? Where do we draw the line between fictitious characters, magic and eves and hallows to that of Christ of faith example of love exemplified in His acted parables in the Bible and Christ great acts over Evil and Death and His victory over them on Cross? The UMC must be critical on using movies laden with agendas in the transformation of the direction of the church and must discern what is GOSPEL is from fiction.
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  • R. Duane Coates 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    These are all excellent questions that actually don't appear rhetorical at all. For someone who has never experienced this camp, as I have as an adult volunteer four of the past five years, I can see where you'd have these questions. But rest assured the mission of the church and the purpose of Christian Education is amazing met at this camp each year. Besides, it's not such a bad thing to have disciples who like to read and are especially enthralled with the supernatural. I think those who read the books or saw the movies understand that even an unlikely outcast like Jesus or Harry Potter or themselves could use the powers of good to defeat evil. Every camper who attended learned the difference between magic and miracle. They read their Bibles, discussed its content, sang songs to God and after four days of practicing the Christian neighbor-love, service-oriented ethic, they were given an opportunity to make or renew a commitment to God through Jesus Christ. Simply put, if more members in the UMC had the understanding of discipleship that these campers have at the end of four days, we would be much more effective in enacting our mission.
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