Harry Potter and the Prince of Peace

Harry Potter and the Prince of Peace

Sunday sermons find Christian message in popular children’s books.

As Rev. Dr. Elizabeth P. Braxton began the worship service Sunday, July 15, she welcomed three guests, whom she identified as Hermione, Harry and Ron from Hogwarts. Clad in gray sweaters, scarlet and gold ties, and sporting wands, they embodied the spirit of Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana's third sermon in her latest sermon series, entitled "Heaven and Hogwarts."

The three teenagers were not pupils at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as described by author J.K. Rowling in her popular "Harry Potter" series, but Natalie Jackson, Thomas Ariale and Michael Ariale, members of the Burke Presbyterian Church and youth group.

Though some may find Harry Potter and Christianity in conflict, — as Lev Grossman declared in a recent Time Magazine editorial that God is the one who dies in "Harry Potter" — McKibben Dana offers a differing viewpoint. "I wanted to lift up another vision that the themes of these books connect to our faith and are not hostile to our faith."

In the second sermon of the series, "Love Leaves Its Own Mark," McKibben Dana addressed these concerns. She stated that in Harry Potter’s world, magic is "not a means of worship" and "there is a much deeper and universal force at work in the Potter universe" despite the use of spells and potions.

Parishioner Sarah Martin said that "instead of church plus Harry Potter equals disaster, [McKibben Dana]'s explaining how it complements the Bible."

The three-part series focused on the idea of being called or chosen, the nature of love and the struggle between good and evil. For example, in the first sermon "Post Comes on Sundays, Too," she referred to the persistence of the letters declaring Potter's acceptance to Hogwarts, asking, "How many letters will it take for the message to get through?" In this instance, the message being "the power of Jesus Christ."

In the third and last sermon, "Prayer and Other Defenses Against the Dark Arts," McKibben Dana referenced the Patronus, a protecting animal figure made of light, whose incantation is "Expecto Patronum," the root of Patronus in Latin being "father." She played a clip from the third film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," in which Potter casts a Patronus charm against the dementors, "dark ghost-like beings that feed on a person's joy."

"When we are confronted with evil — do we expect that God (the Father) will be there with us lighting the way?" asked McKibben Dana.

The response to the series has been positive, according to McKibben Dana. "The people who didn't know the books well have appreciated seeing what the hype's about and those who have [read the books] have said that they enjoyed the books, but never thought about the themes of the books connecting in that way," she said.

"I haven't read the books, but I've seen the movies," said parishioner Ann Hathaway. "I didn't know how much it tied in [to Christianity], it tied in very well, more than I realized."

Decked out in Gryffindor uniform, Jackson said, "We love it. It's really interactive."

"I like the way [McKibben Dana] adds in clips from the movies, it helps people understand who haven't been with the book," said parishioner Nick Steel.

The series has helped the church reach out to the community, enabling parishioners to invite friends comfortably without feeling imposing. "We had one person, they invited their neighbor and he has come to every sermon since," stated McKibben Dana. In fact, the series has brought in visitors from as far away as Culpeper. "It's been really very gratifying," said McKibben Dana.

"People relate to Harry Potter," said Thomas Ariale. The church has considered other works "as possible springboards for worship," said McKibben Dana, but "this has universal appeal, it's not just a kid thing, it's not just an adult thing, it relates to a lot of people."

Wielding a wand, parishioner Kate Lee said, "There should be a sermon for every book."