Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post Halloween Thoughts from Salem, MA

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...

Friday, November 02, 2012

of long tongues and cleaning up after the carnival: Post Halloween Thoughts

This Halloween was a unique and crazy carnival for The Gathering. Every Halloween is that, but they each have their own strange life. This year a few new friends, and new events set the stage for the changing future of outreach in Salem.

Christianity Today asked me to write a story about the circus of outreach styles which occur every October, and to focus on the things we do during the month. Our friends Michelle Pritzl and Shawn Fitzgerald were asked to provide photography back up for the story.

I placed myself and a few friends in the last slot of the evening: Aaron Zev Katz, David Gerard, Mark Muzeroll, Jim and Allison Trick, and Michael Pritzl (who just moved to Salem a couple months ago, and when we get together we look like Dumbledore and Snape ) joined me for the closing set of Halloween Night. My favorite moment of the whole month of Halloween Outreach (remember Halloween is a month long event in Salem) was when we were leading a crowd of hundreds singing with us to such songs as Lake of Fire, and Amazing Grace.

Friends from other outreaches joined us for the first time: Hope Deifell (my favorite Burner), Kelly and Bonnie Williams (who were at the Wild Goose Festival), and our always faithful and surprising friend Alan Drake from Dallas brought his friend Kresimir Zeravica (a brilliant Croatian now living in Dallas).

Our Children's Day was on the verge of going extinct, but thanks to some help from Jason Silva from the mayor's office, Ellen Talkowski (the Queen of Halloween), Dominic Benvenuti from Domino's Pizza, Aggregate Industries, Fiesta Entertainment, and Shara Sobelman the event is on the rebound and should grow well over the next couple years.

Dream Interpretation teams rocked it, and a few new friends (Leeland and Kimberly) joined us through the month and touched people's hearts deeply.

More than any other year, some of our visitors from distant places left in tears, because they were so touched by new friendships they developed. And of course, those friendships included our friends who love The Gathering, but do not identify as Christians. Bonnie, Kelly, and Debora Spotted-Eagle just had to get a picture with their new friends. They just fell in love with Valor, Stephen and Dan - the Witch, the Tie-dye Buddhist Guy, and the Agnostic.

Valor added color to the season by making a "Hug a Witch" sign and standing in front of some aggressive street preachers. Dan (the agnostic) stood in the pouring rain of Hurricane Sandy getting drenched, and waited for a street preacher to take a breathe, and then asked if he could get him a sandwich or a coffee (note: Dan has been out of work for quite a while). These were funny moments, where the people who love us but do not identify as Christians were showing love to people they struggled to accept. These are lessons for all of us who do call ourselves Christians.

So, now my tongue is hanging out, and I am ready to sleep for a month, but the clean up must follow the carnival. This was a great year of surprise, and the biggest surprise was the fact that dozens of people wanted to start following Jesus. Of course, as always we will gauge that by the daily changes occurring in heart, mind and action. Following God is not the easy path of life for most of us.

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