Each October, magical folk throughout eastern Columbus arrive by Floo-powder, portkey or merely apparate to the “All Saints School of Theology and Wizardry” in New Albany, Ohio. In this highly themed, imaginative setting of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, “wizards and witches” of all ages dive deep into the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the circle glasses and lightning bolt scar of Harry Potter.
“The Gospel According to Harry Potter” night has brought over 150 people, dressed in robes, House sweaters, ties and wands, to a church now decorated with House banners, owls, and even a Whomping Willow to hear one of the great modern re-tellings of the Christian faith expressed in the books of J.K Rowling. Throughout the Great Hall, Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Potions class and more, participants allow their imagination to “be baptized” for a night of fun and faith.
I came to meet Harry during my first assignment as a young priest resident. As I walked into the church offices, the parish secretary was eating lunch and slowly flipping through a book titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I asked what exactly she was reading. Her eyes lit up like a child on Christmas morning. “Oh Father, just take it and read. You will LOVE it.”
I was skeptical at first. The title seemed bizarre and I barely knew if I had the time to read it. I hesitantly took the book from her and cracked it open that evening at 9 p.m. as I was winding down for the night. Ten hours later, at 7 a.m. the next morning, I was still reading, devouring page by page until it was completed. The book captivated my imagination like no other fictional book has ever accomplished. Through each page, I was pulled deeper into this epic tale of love, mystery and friendship.
But what struck me the most were the feathers of the Holy Spirit sprinkled throughout each chapter. This book oozed symbols, themes and images that have been the hallmarks of our Christian faith from its earliest days. Not only was I seeing Jesus throughout the books, I was seeing my own journey of discipleship through the characters and events developed throughout the series.
The Rev. Patricia Lyons, Canon for Evangelization for the Diocese of Washington, DC and author of the book Teaching Faith with Harry Potter states, “Harry Potter helps people find, explore, and increase their faith because JK Rowling is not asking the reader to do anything other than witness the power of love above all else, even death. Throughout the series’ more than four thousand pages, she crafts a community of contagious characters, some driven toward goodness and others toward darkness, and subjects them all to the power of love – specifically, sacrificial love that can conquer death.”
The theme of resurrection permeates each Potter book much like the warmth of a tall glass of butterbeer permeates the soul on a cold day in Hogsmeade. From accounts of personal transformation of characters such as Neville Longbottom, to the highly mystical Resurrection Stone that Harry uses to see the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” of his closest family and friends; the symbols of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who by His death trampled upon death, are found sprinkled throughout the Potter series. These are moments in pop culture where the Holy Spirit flashes like a “Lumos” spell to enlighten our minds and open new ways for us to encounter the Risen Christ.
Each “Gospel According to Harry Potter” night at All Saints incorporates fellowship, a feast worthy of the Great Hall, hands-on classes for little wizards, and a “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class in which clips from the movies are shown and the theology hidden in them is revealed.
One of my favorite images in the series is that of the phoenix. This mythical bird, which at the end of its life combusts into flames to be reborn from the ashes, is the pet of Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. The phoenix not only is reborn from the ashes, but its tears bring healing and it is able to carry heavy loads to safe places.
Early Christians saw in this mythical creature a sign of the Resurrection. St. Clement of Rome sees the phoenix as a “wonderful sign of the Resurrection” and declares “Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise?” (First Letter to the Corinthians). Jesus Christ is our phoenix, the one who by His Resurrection has healed us and has carried the heavy load of our sins. He is the Sun of Righteousness who “shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Mal. 4:2)
One of the darkest creatures created by Rowling is that of the dementors. They are one of the foulest creatures reeking with the presence and stench of death. As Professor Lupin teaches young Harry in The Prisoner of Azakaban, the only way to fight this creature of death is with the Patronus Charm. This spell gets its power, not by a wand or words, but when the wizard recalls a memory of profound power and love. In the story, Harry remembers the death of his parents who gave their lives for him. It is through that memory that he casts away hundreds of dementors.
Canon Lyons states, “I believe in the Patronus Charm in real life because I used it and it worked. I believe that the Christian faith trains the church in the Patronus Charm at every Eucharist.
Each time we gather for Eucharist to fulfill Christ’s command to “Do this in remembrance of Me” we call forth a deep, powerful memory of love, the greatest act of sacrificial love in which our Lord by His Passion, Death, and Resurrection has not only cast away the “dementors” of death, but has destroyed Death itself.”
The Rev. Kevin Beesley, curate at All Saints, attended his first “Gospel According to Harry Potter” night this past fall. “I must admit, I knew very little about Harry Potter before attending this event. I was absolutely amazed to see how powerful this event is for the task of evangelism. So many people came who never have darkened the steps of a church before, but have been touched by Harry Potter. What a great way to show them Jesus through words and symbols they know and love in the Harry Potter books.”
As Canon Lyons has described, “the moral vision at the heart of JK Rowling’s great epic informs the faith and moral compass of millions of people, and its almost universal popularity makes it a shared language of teachers, pastors, parents, and godparents and those whose faith formation they guide – and for all of us seeking common ground to share our faith with roommate, sibling, spouse, or friend. This modern epic provides one of the most ubiquitous and enchanting tools of our time to awaken and baptize the imagination. Don’t put this wand away!”
The Rev. Jason Prati (aka Dumbledore) serves as rector at All Saints, New Albany