An Interview with Pastor Phil Wyman
with Pam Hogeweide
A prolific blogger, Phil is currently writing a book about his experiences as a pastor who loves witches. This May, The Salem Gathering is hosting a conference called God for People Who Hate Church. Featured speakers include Jay Bakker of One Punk Under God fame, Tony Jones of Emergent, and our very own Jim Henderson.
Phil Wyman lives in Salem, MA with his wife, Bev. You can read more about their dream to befriend pagans here.
Pam Hogeweide is a contributing writer for Off the Map. She has written about her friendship with witches at her blog, How God Messed Up My Religion. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids and is a self-employed cleaner, though she dreams of eventually being a full-time writer.
I love witches and pagans. I used to be freaked out about them, thinking they were all blood-drinking fiends who stayed up all night cursing Christians and sacrificing cats in the woods. Under a full moon. Naked. But then I found out a couple of friends of mine were into Wicca, a popular form of neo-paganism (and witchcraft) that some claim is one of the fastest growing spiritualities in America. As I researched their beliefs, trying to get my head and heart around their worldview, I soon discovered that I had a very inaccurate understanding of modern witchcraft. Most practitioners, like my friends, are peaceful people who deeply crave a connection to the Divine. They certainly aren’t drinking blood. (“That would be the Catholics,” jokes my witchy friend Michelle.)
So I am thrilled to introduce you to someone who is not only another Christian who loves witches and pagans, but he’s also a pastor. (Please don’t hold that against him.) He’s not your average stuck-behind-the-church-walls kind of spiritual leader. This man chooses to not only hang out with neo-pagans, but he and his wife, along with another family, uprooted from their California home to start a church in the witchiest city in America.
Salem, Massachusetts, notorious for its witch trials in the late 1600’s, Salem has flourished to become the unofficial capitol of witchery in the country. Its annual Halloween festival brings thousands within its borders. Phil and his church, The Salem Gathering, are right in the middle of it all, offering free Psalm readings, dream interpretations as well as hot chocolate and family-fun entertainment.
At first, Phil’s denomination-that-shall-not-be-named was all gaga about Phil’s unique and inventive outward reach to a group of people that most Christians won’t even eat dinner with. But over time, there came rumors and whisperings and a flurry of gossipy emails that raised questions about the wisdom of Phil’s modus operandi. He and the other leaders of his church found themselves subjected to an old-fashioned witch hunt where they were asked such questions as, “How can you be friends with witches?” to which they replied, “How can we not?”
Defrocked and ousted by his denomination of more than twenty years, Phil received tremendous support from his church and has continued to lead as pastor. (Read Phil’s account here)
Some wonder at the effectiveness of being chummy with people who follow pagan paths. If they’re coming to Christ, ok great, but what if they’re not? Phil makes it clear that he is not out to pull a bait-and-switch with his friends who are witches. They are not an evangelistic project. ”This is insidious, trying to convert us,” say some pagans.
“I don’t think people are targetable. I make friends with people and then we talk about life. And I think the life I find in Jesus is the most compelling thing I know, and I know that they might not,” explains Phil. “And I know, that for the entirety of their life they might not (be interested.) And I’m not going to give up on them or our friendship if they never do. We make friends and share our lives with each other.”
One of the problems about Christians freaking out when it comes to witches and pagans are the myths we associate with them. Myth number one: They worship satan. “They do not. Most of them don’t even believe in satan,” says Phil. Myth number two: We assume they worship a deity. “Most pagans define themselves as agnostic, or what I call mystical agnostic. Some don’t even practice spells,” continues Phil.
Myth number three: (my personal favorite) Pagans and witches are out to send curses against the church. “There are many of them who really think it would be an unethical thing to do. To some degree most pagans adhere to the Wiccan Rede, ‘And it ‘arm none do what thou wilt’” explains Phil. (Rede: pronounced “reed,” which basically means, Don’t hurt anyone)
Another myth about witches is that they practice their rituals skyclad, or au naturale. “Many pagans are as excited about getting naked in a group as a Baptist church quilting bee would be,” says Phil.
What it boils down to is that our response to neo-pagans and Wiccans in our communities is often a reaction of fear and superstition, typically fueled by misleading ministries who put out books and seminars with severe misinformation. “The fear that spending time with witches and neo-pagans might allow some dark force to gain access to my life is a superstition found among many Christian groups. The apostle Paul ministered in a highly charged pagan environment and gave us guidelines for dealing with the people in his culture, “ says Phil. “These guidelines had to do with intimate interactions such as eating together and the celebration of holidays. This shows us that day to day life, and the intimate interactions of living and working together, were part of developing ministry to pagans.”
I asked Phil for advice in relating to pagans about our faith. “Do not assume they are satanists,” began Phil. “Do not assume they practice some form of malevolent magic. Begin your relationship with someone who is pagan by believing the best about them – love believes all things – and that perhaps their reason for being pagan is noble. Understand that they may have been rejected or mistreated by other Christians,” says Phil. “Be willing to listen to them. Treat them with the simple respect you would desire to receive from them.”
Is it kind of weird to think about Christians and witches hanging out with each other?
“Everybody is weird. And we are weird and that’s why Jesus came because we’re all weirdoes. I just really love witches and pagans.” Me too, Phil, me too.
March 4th, 2007 · 110 Comments