What does the church have to offer on Black Friday?

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On Black Friday I came across a tweet from Rev. David L. Hansen (@rev_david), a Lutheran pastor–and social media kingpin–in rural Texas noting that people who actually benefit from the deeply discounted prices offered by retailers on the day after Thanksgiving were “caught in the crossfire” of criticism emanating from those who find the 24-hour orgy of shopping crassly commercial.


This resonated deeply with me. I come from a part of the country where Black Friday is regarded in the same way that the first day of hunting season is regarded in places where they hunt for food rather than sport. Later, the Rev. Laura Everett (@RevEverett), executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches passed on a tweet suggesting that the success of Black Friday showed a deep desire to participate in public rituals. Soon, the three of us where discussing whether the church might do more on Black Friday than simply lament the commercialism.

Last night, independent of that conversation, the Rt. Rev. Rob Hirschfeld, (@NHBishopX) Bishop co-adjutor of New Hampshire wondered if the church could bring the Eucharist to the mall on Black Friday in the same way that Ashes to Go brings ashes to the church on Ash Wednesday. Later, the new suffragan bishop of Texas Jeff Fisher (@jeffwfisher) affirmed that idea, and the conversation was spread by Beth Felice tweeting at the Diocese of Missouri’s handle (@DioMoNews).

It seems to me that when done well, taking our rituals out of the church and into the streets and malls and transit stops can have a powerful effect on people. The experiences of the Rev. Emily Mellott (@eamellott) and others who have helped make Ashes to Go such a success may be valuable in figuring out other ways to take the church to the people.

What do you think? How should the church be present on Black Friday? How can it be more present in people’s daily lives?

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David O'Rourke
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David O'Rourke

Last year the Diocese of Montreal created an Advent Chapel/Oasis of calm in a space they had access to in one of the malls in the city.

http://adventchapel.wordpress.com/

In my area a social service agency has collected wish lists from children around the area, and will have a Giving Tree set up at a local mall where shoppers can pick up gift tags and then shop for these children and turn the gifts in before heading home for the day. My parish will be helping out by staffing one of the volunteer shifts.

http://www.apreciouschild.org/our-work/precious-gift

Another take on that is the Lutheran World Relief Gifts program where people can purchase an animal or other item for communities that LWR supports. A church group could offer a way for shoppers to purchase such gifts.

http://lwrgifts.org/

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Padre Michael
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Padre Michael

One aspect of this move to take liturgy into the public square is the privatization of the public square. Shopping malls, strip shopping centers, and big box stores all control access inside and out. It's easy to place ourselves at a busy corner of Chicago's State Street or Manhattan's Broadway, but quite a challenge in small-town America because the public Main Street was long ago abandoned for the private aisles of Walmart and the Galleria. It's not an impossibility to take religion there, just an interesting challenge.

Michael Rich

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Jessica Stone
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Jessica Stone

But are the majority shopping for gifts? I thought I read recently that actually, most of the money spent on Black Friday is for own purchases because that's when big things like appliances, televisions, etc are heavily discounted. Not that that makes it any more or less commendable. If you need a new washing machine, you need a new washing machine. Actually, I need a new washing machine! But no Black Friday sales where I am, alas.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

Gift giving is a not a ritual that I understand. On the same principle that giving cash is the best way to help disaster victims, shouldn't I give cash?

I rather liked @Michael Russell's comment above that "millions of retail and seasonal workers have jobs that depend on the success of our commercial orgies. So we might all lighten up some." But then I wondered why there had to be orgies. A steadier pace of spending (adding up to the same total) would be more efficient.

By the way, every year we seem to crowd more and more of our spending into the start of the Christmas shopping season. I suspect the big $$ from Black Friday are just a sign that the Christmas Cliff will be bigger this year than ever.

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Bonnie Spivey
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Bonnie Spivey

Just tagging on to Jim's comment here. A glimmer of an idea. If folks are out there buying gifts for others maybe we could offer some gift alternatives that support Episcopal ministries. Perhaps several congregations could band together to rent a kiosk where they might sell some handmade crafts or small gifts?

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