Almost 60 people from around the US joined our little church to offer spiritual counseling to the celebrants in our city. Our church meets in a former bank along the red line marking the visitors route around the city. From our church, and from tents set up in one of the busiest squares in downtown Salem they provided Dream Interpretation (ala the Book of Daniel) and “Spiritual Readings” as a means of identifying with the spiritual seekers coming to Salem.
Valor is a local Witch. She likes our church. On Saturday before Halloween, I taught a class introducing the 60 outreach ministers to the world of Salem. It was part introduction to the belief systems of Neo-Paganism, part sensitivity training to fight back the urge to engage in spiritual warfare, and part pep rally for the outreach. I introduced Valor to the class.
“If you haven’t met a Witch. This is what a witch looks like.” It wasn’t hard to imagine. She was dressed in black and red – complete with robe and pointy hat. During October, this is the look for many Salem Witches for the Halloween season. The rest of the year, most look like your next-door neighbor. She smiled. She hugged me. She shared a few words. At the end of the teaching I told everyone to hug a Witch.
Kelly and her daughter Bonnie joined the outreach from Raleigh, North Carolina. They were two of the first Witch huggers to approach Valor. The stage was set. People were ready to treat Witches like regular people with the same dreams, passions, struggles, and joys as everyone else.
Despite cultural clashes with evangelism styles, the people coming to Salem are seekers. It is a surprise to those who join us in outreach. People are still standing in line to experience spiritual counseling after 13 years of sharing God’s love in October.
Kimberly and Leeland offered love expressions in our church throughout the month. “You are amazing! God loves you so much, and sees how special you are.” Kimberly would sing out to people. I’m not sure what unique quality Kimberly carries, but love is the biggest portion of her power. People would melt in front of her. People cried, they laughed, they prayed and asked for Jesus to touch their hearts.
The variety of evangelism expressions visiting Salem creates a wild, sometimes violent culture clash each October.
Visiting street preachers know about our church. We are fairly famous for a small group of about 40 people. Weekends in October some of the preachers decide to declare by loudspeaker, that “The Gathering is a cult,” or some such accusation.
Dan Kupka, a local musician and self-described agnostic, who hangs out at our church, stood patiently in front of a street preacher with a microphone and a loudspeaker. I watched from a few feet away as the rain from the remains of Frankenstorm - Hurricane Sandy pounded the few visitors walking the streets a couple days before Halloween. I wondered what craziness might erupt once the preacher finished his monologue. Dan had come out of our church without a coat, and was soaking wet before he had a chance to say his peace. When the preaching subsided, Dan stepped forward into the street preacher’s face and gently asked, “Can I get you a sandwich, or a coffee or something.”
For the previous month, I had been telling people in our church (who often are bothered by the incoming street preachers) that it was imperative for us to respond peacefully and lovingly to the noisy visitors, even if they felt that the preachers were leaving the local churches to pick up the mess afterward.
Dan’s gracious offering to the street preacher became a model for our church. This was the way of our Savior – the Prince of Peace. And the way was modeled by an agnostic.
More stories to come soon...