My friend Phil Wyman has served as the pastor of The Gathering in Salem, Massachusetts, for ten years now. I met Phil three years ago as a result of a front page story on him that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. We have conversed by phone and prayed for one another. Emails keep us in contact. I still hope to teach there sometime in 2009. I support Phil and believe in his outreach. If you've ever been to Salem you will understand why this kind of missional church-plant is so needed there. Here is Phil's report to praying friends from last week:
I am just now getting to telling our Halloween story for
this year. The month-long experience of Halloween in
Salem is remarkable to behold for those who have never experienced it. Many
visit us for a week or a weekend, but for those of us who live here, and serve
throughout the month of October it has become commonplace to view Salem as Halloween Town. Like Jack the Mayor of Halloween Town in "The Nightmare Before
Christmas" many people in Salem work all year toward October, and Halloween becomes a month long event with its
We have rushed headlong into the middle of all the
celebrations with the hope of being a blessing to all, and this year the event
was as spectacular, and life-changing for people as any of the previous nine.
Yes, this is our tenth Halloween in Salem.
Over 80 people were trained to learn
how to treat Witches and Neo-Pagans as regular people. This is not something
we as Christians do well. There were returning friends who helped interpret
dreams from a biblical perspective, and offered spiritual advice to passing
Halloween partiers. Others played music, or served free hot cocoa. Others still served food to those who came to be part of this massive
outreach, or provide background support by setting up the outdoor stage, run
the sound system, raise money to help support the event, or clean the carpets
of the church.
We organized and ran a Children's Day event with the help of
Domino's Pizza and had 3,000 attendees. We held a feast based upon
experiences of Heaven and Hell, we ran 6 days of live music, gave away 3,000
cups of free hot cocoa (this number was down by 5,000 cups, because it was such
a warm year!), counseled or interpreted dreams for thousands of people, gave
800 people an educational experience highlighting human slavery in the world
today, and sent young men dressed as monks to offer free blessings to the
people on the streets.
Each year this event grows. It seems to have legs of
its own, and is moving faster than we can keep up with it. All these
things are accomplished by a small church of about 45 people, and the friends
and other churches who like to hang out with us.
The Associated Press (AP) called me and asked for a phone interview this
year. You can access the podcast of the short radio segment by following
the link below.
The number of people who spoke of being touched by the
gentle presence of God's blessing are beyond the scope of our ability to count.
Even the simple gesture of giving a cup of free hot cocoa can illicit a
generous response. One college aged young man replied, "This is the
best idea I've seen out here." There are new faces visiting the
church since the October outreach – locals who were significantly touched by the
"spiritual readings," dream interpretation, and blessings from our
wandering monks are visiting the church on Sunday now.
In the Old Testament we find the children of Israel gathering in Jerusalem for the
feasts. Passover, Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles brought the
people together into one place to worship and celebrate. This was the
manner in which they gathered for "church." Today our society
is running to festivals to celebrate, party, and vacation. Haunted
Happenings in Salem is one of the
great festivals in U.S. culture. It has been our goal to "crash the
party," and make our little festival within this larger festival called
Haunted Happenings one of the "places to be." In a sense we are
bringing church to the partying public, and offering gentle touches of God's
grace. They effect has been dramatic.
After ten years of serving in Salem in this manner, hundreds of Christians from near and far gather to help us
serve. Thousands of people experience the ministry outreach we offer, and
now are beginning to return each year to looking specifically for us.
These returning people are not necessarily Christians. They come
from all walks of life, and have simply recognized that there is acceptance,
love, and peacefulness in our presence. This has become our way of
bringing the power of the Old Testament festival life to the city of Salem,
and the people who visit us from around the world.
For those of you who have supported the large efforts of
this little church financially or in prayer – thank you. You are at the
base of our ability to continue in the footsteps of our gracious Savior on
these cobble-stoned streets of Salem, Massachusetts.
For those who would like to help support the work of The
Gathering in our location at The Vault you can donate to the causes we serve on
our website at http://www.salemgathering.com
The Vault is a spiritual development center, and the home
of The Gathering. The Gathering is a community of people pursuing
spiritual development through following the examples and teachings of Jesus the
Nazarene. We are interdenominational, and welcoming to all people of all
religious, as well as non-religious backgrounds. Our church services meet
at 10 am& 6 pm each Sunday.
Located at: 217 Essex Street in Salem, MA
Near the corner of Washington and Essex, next door to Rockafella's, and across
the street from Salem Five Cent Savings Bank.
Contact The Gathering, and
The Vault at 978-744-8444