Monday, October 29, 2007

Beyond the Pall (Part 7): A Day with Dennis

It was October in Salem. It was now eight months since my friend the Witch had died. It was also the season when the occult trade took on a decidedly more noticeable place in the marketing strategies of our fair city. Our small city of 40,000 people hosts twelve or thirteen withcraft shops, and the windows were brimming with occult wares like toy stores stocked for the Christmas rush.

In the ninth October of ministry during Salem's month long Haunted Happenings events, we now had over a hundred volunteers. The members of our own small church, interns from a prophetic school of ministry, groups from other churches in the area, musicians, and people who travelled from as far away as California joined us to "do the stuff" in our wildly fun city during this season in which families visited to celebrate the costume season, and spiritual seekers came from distant lands to pursue an alternative spirituality.

I taught classes on understanding Neo-Paganism to people who visited to do evangelism in our unique gentle style. We held events specifically aimed at offering fun, yet significant experiences to visiting tourists. We served free hot cocoa on the streets, and provided seven days of live music on the city's largest outdoor stage which we paid for, and sponsored and ran.

During this unbelievably busy season Dennis joined us from rural mid-state New York, and stayed at our house for a week. We prayed together. We practiced the ancient art of scripture meditation called Lectio Divina. We wandered around town and visited some of the Witches I knew, and I taught Dennis what I had learned over the last 13 years of studying, and befriending Witches.

Dennis had come with expectations of discovering a new way to do evangelism after having felt ineffective over most of the course of his 23 years as a Christian. The year before he heard about our outreach in Salem, MA, and his heart had been stirred to visit us.

One afternoon Dennis and I were doing Dream Interpretation (pretending to be like Daniel of the Bible) at the church. As we were interpreting dreams, a man in a long black cape, and some convincing looking vampire fangs entered and patiently waited for us to conclude our session. Vlad was a gothic magician working in the city. He had visited our church once before, and he and I frequently spoke on the street. When we were done, Vlad asked if I could visit one of the local Witches, who had become quite frustrated, and was apparently in some state of frenzy that day.

"Pastor Phil, he respects you, and I am sure he will listen to you." Vlad said.

When we were free, Dennis and I made our way to try and help this professional Witch who was working his way toward burnout. I mentioned to Dennis that this had now become a fairly regular event, especially during the busy Halloween season. Dennis was processing this information, which even to myself was a bit bizarre, but to Dennis there was no mental file folder in which to place these strange facts.

Unfortunately, we could not reach this Witch in his shop on our little journey down the street. So we let it be known we were making a friendly call, and went on our way. As we left the store, we were met by another local Pagan shop owner who asked me if I would help bring some peace between some feuding business owners.

"Could you do a miracle?" He asked.

"Sure, what's going on?" I asked in return.

He told of the two business owners: one who ran a haunted house, and another who ran a Witch shop. They were at odds with one another over what he thought was fairly petty issues.

"It would be better for business for all of us if they could get along," he said.

I told him I would give it a try, and as we walked away Dennis laughed with wonder and said, "Two different Pagans have asked for your help and counsel for their friends in the last 20 minutes. This is incredible!"

Dennis spoke to our church on Sunday morning, and this event became one of the highwater marks of his week. The experience was weird and wonderful, and Dennis helped me remember once again for perhaps the thousandth time that my life has become weird and wonderful in the last few years.


Agent B said...

I can definitely agree with Dennis: the local really respect you.

And you are pretty weird and wonderful.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think one of the big reasons for Pagans trusting you and respecting you is that you've shown... probably more than any other Christian they've ever met, that you really listen and take on board what people are saying.

You will no doubt understand that I've had similar experiences with Christians seeking me out in the past. The unfortunate thing about that is that it often freaks out our own spiritual communities.. for you the Christian community, for me the Pagans. But it is my personal belief that what we botrh do is exercise one of the most important aspects of pastoral duty (yeah, I suppose I think of myself as a shamanic pastor), which is being there for people in need without judgement. Just with a compassion we personally draw from our own spiritual lives. If some find, on recognising the source of our approach, that they are also drawn to our spiritual perspective, then all to the good. If they don't find that, then at least they can recognise (hopefully) that our spiritual perspective can't be all bad.

Remembering that peoples practical needs are at least as important as their spiritual needs, and being prepared to give what we can to help those practical needs as a priority lets people know that they matter.

(You've been a great teacher over the years Phil. :D)



Pastor Phil said...

B is for Bro,

Thanks Agent B Bro.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

I just wish you were here in Salem as well. Thanks for being like a brother to me. You do show pastoral care over people, and model love well.

Adam Gonnerman said...


Good stuff.

Do you know if there will be another GFPWHC conference in 2008? If so, I may try to schedule to attend. If not, I might like to pay a visit to Salem in October next year. I'm in NJ, so in theory the trip there wouldn't take too long.

Halloween is my B-Day, and as you've seen in my recent synchroblog I have nothing against it. The only part I don't care for is the fear and horror some try to associate with it. For me it has more to do with fantasy, which can serve as a step towards the divine.

Pastor Phil said...


At this point we will be working to see if we can pull it off again this coming May. So look for info on it in the next month. GFPWHC2!

GFreat day to be born - happy B-day bro. You and the reformation.