Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jesus without strings: a look back at 2011

Having a church in Salem, Massachusetts is considered by some to be adventurous enough by itself. Having that church downtown along the historic walk which all the visitors follow, and in the midst of the plethora of witchcraft shops, haunted houses and Halloween knick knack shops, is even more adventurous. Making friends with the Witches, the musicians, the artists, and the homeless in Salem is downright dangerous - or some believe it is. But, Jesus lived dangerously, and we expect that following His example might occasionally have the same adventurous results.

This year there have been some new and adventurous things happening at the church.

There is a a Open Mic every Thursday evening, and a group of local musicians have made the event a regular experience, and it has become a place some have found a home away from home.

Our creative style of outreach reached out as far as northern Nevada this year. With a team from around the US, we led an art installation at the Burning Man Festival. Like Salem, Burning Man is a strange and crazy place. A video of our project, with interviews from the people who came to experience it can be found on Youtube.

Like each of the last 13 years, October was a wonderful time of outreach and stories of redemption. People came from far and wide to minister with us once again - from Texas, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the UK were just some of the places represented. The Vineyard, the Association of Bridge Churches, the Assemblies of God, Youth with a Mission, and people from Baptist and Episcopal churches were just a few of the groups represented. Our desire to become a place for people of all Christian traditions to minister in a unique post-modern, post-Christian environment is becoming more and more of a reality each year.

We believe in Jesus without strings.

The Gathering has also experienced a little growth. New faces, new people, and a sense of excitement with it.

Melissa and Jodi are re-starting the Women's Bible Study on Tuesday evenings. Ian has been recording the services and posting them on our Facebook page. The worship team is an amazing group of musicians, and help make the Sunday services both comfortable and fun. (The song link is Pastor Phil leading worship and Ian says this song sounded like an Irish Pub Song, because we were laughing at the fact that Jonathan stumbled on his way to the piano.)

Thousands have been touched in a variety of ways this last year through our outreach projects here in Salem, and now as far away as Nevada.

Many of you have been part of the support of our unique missional community over the years, and our thanks and appreciation go out to you. May the Lord bless you abundantly this Christmas Season, and in the New Year.

If you would like to help our small church with an enormous mission continue reaching the world with the message of God's abounding love in this coming year you can give securely online on our website.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Salem Outreach 2011

This was a fast paced month with every weekend busy with outreach, visitors from distant places who joined us for ministry, and some wonderful results in the busyness of it all.

The month started off with Mark and Anthea Searle joining us from Cheltenham, UK. They walked with some of the people of our church through "More Light" ministry sessions, and taught a short workshop on the basics of the ministry.

Dennis Huxley was here on that second weekend as well, and would return every weekend - even staying for a full eleven straight days at one point. In the end Dennis was with us in Salem for more days than he was home in Rome, NY.

John Harding joined us from the Bridge Church in Ipswich and led a couple local teams through Dream Interpretation and prophetic outreaches at The Gathering.

Andy Gamble joined us from Pennsylvania on four different weekends, and brought people with him - lots of people with him - and different people each week.

Brandon and Grace Crummer helped lead teams in Dream Interpretation, prophetic ministry, and healing prayers. Matt Keating joined us from Ohio and brought a team with him on the fourth weekend. We were also joined by Jamie Dickson from Crave Ministries, a YWAM missions team, and a variety of people who flew in specifically to join us: April Alario, Alan Drake, Christopher Gaston, Allen Henninger, Peter Parkas, Debora Spotted Eagle, the Matthews family from British Columbia and Enrique who is from Honduras even joined us during his travels across the US.

Here are a few highlights, and strange events from the month:

Enrique tells the story of his interaction with a man with a severe case of arthritis who was prayed for by one of the prophetic ministry teams. He started off with constant pain which he described as "10" in severity, and in a few short minutes of prayer was experiencing painless freedom.

A man from Philadelphia sat in to receive ministry from one of our teams, and told them that he returns every year to Salem specifically for this experience. His wife was not quite as zealous as he was about the experience and wondered at her husband's zeal.

A number of people made solid steps toward walking with Jesus. They made confessions of faith for the first time, and asked for more information on how to get involved with the kind of outreach we are doing. Deliverance prayers were offered at length for people struggling with depression, or temptation to fall into old habits or lifestyles, and by the end of the month a whole crew of friends was part of our little circle at The Gathering.

To make such festival evangelism work properly it requires hard work, creativity and sensitivity.

I can not thank the members of our small church enough: Joyce, Jeff and Diane, Rennie and myself put people up in our homes throughout the month. Carlos organized the crazy schedule of visiting friends. Paul and Carrie handled organizing the massive task of serving free hot cocoa next to our outdoor stage. Jane was there just about every day, making food and filling in wherever she was needed. David helped run the sound on the stage, and performed a couple gigs as well. Jodi helped arrange a concert with the worship band Aradhna, and it was a smashing success. These are just a few examples of the hard work necessary to put on such a large number of events in the month of October.

The creativity this year seemed to be flow beautifully and naturally. Christopher Gaston brought dozens of his pictures to give away to people who came to us, and personally signed them. The music from our outdoor stage was exciting and the number of local bands who show unbelievable talent was striking. Ian Bennet worked hard on video taping responses from some of the people who came to minister alongside us, and soon we will putting together a video of some of our work here in Salem. April joined the festivities by dressing the part, and came in costume as "the fire of God." These are only a few of the creative expressions found this month at The Gathering.

Of course, there is always a necessity for sensitivity. In a small tourist city with over a dozen Witchcraft shops, and a tourist season dedicated to Halloween, one must be sensitive to many things. The Gospel is in its own right offensive enough at times, but there is no reason for us to add to the offensiveness by either rudeness, or a lack of understanding the cultural dynamics we are facing. During the last week we were faced with blaring bull horns and preachers standing outside the church shouting to the crowds about their sins, and telling that they were going to Hell. As every other year, we try to help them see that there might be a better way to reach people, and often we do so in vain, but occasionally some of them understand our concern. This year was as crazy as usual on the final few days of October, and some of our new friends who had just decided to follow the Jesus Way were themselves quite offended by the antics of the noisy street preachers.

Such are the challenges and the joys of ministering at the Haunted Happenings festival in Salem, Massachusetts in October. Please keep us in prayer as we seek to help those who are now recently following Christ to grow in their new faith.

Too many stories to tell. More coming soon, and videos as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coming Up: Last Weekend of Halloween Outreach in Salem, MA

Update on happenings at The Gathering
October 26th, Two-Thousand Eleven in the year of our Lord.

The last four weekends we have held outreach events at The Gathering. Hundreds of people have experienced gracious words of blessing, and received interpretations to dreams. Teams of "prophets" have spoken words over them. This is Halloween in Salem. Our small church has become a major player in setting the tone of Halloween events in the city because of our location, and because of the fact that the city has graciously allowed us to use the fountain on Essex Street to help set a tone of fun and blessing.

Free Hot Cocoa has been active and serving up cups by the thousands on the weekend. Fair Trade Cocoa has been served as a message about the necessity of breaking away from slave dependent sources. We were able to serve out of biodegradable cups for the first few days, but the cost has been prohibitive for doing this throughout the whole of the season. The costs for serving free hot cocoa have increased almost four-fold since choosing the fair trade method, but we are committed to the purpose and its important message. Deep, deep thanks to Carrie Erwin and Paul Drake for making this cocoa service run smoothly. You rock like organic beans.

The Fountain Stage is now moving into its fourth week of music on the streets of Salem. Christine Cooper the Welsh Celtic Fiddle Champion, and storyteller was on the stage and performed from The Vault. She is now a favorite of some locals. Aradhna was here for a weekend concert and brought Christina worship music in Hindi, and some of the best musicianship we've seen here. Paul Duffy, Sarah Van Wyk and others brought us good music over the last few weekends on the Fountain Stage.

Dream Interpretation and Spiritual Readings were happening over the last three weekends. We saw some physical healings when people were prayed for. Gracious words of encouragement brought tears of joy to many people. Many were encouraged in their search for God and truth. This is what the heart of our investment into the Halloween season of Salem is about. It is our desire to impact as many of the 500,000 people who visit Salem in October as we can. The only way to do such a thing year after year is to make sure that Christians are embedded into the fabric of events like this, and that we learn to work with leaders of the events in ways which are beneficial to the event itself, and sensitive to the culture around us. John Harding from the Northshore Bridge Church and Carlos Zeisel from The Gathering will continue to help lead these outreach projects.

This last weekend friends will be joining us from around the US. Allen Henninger is here now from LA. Dennis Huxley is returning. More friends from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, and Texas are coming as well.

College groups from Boston are joining us for outreach, and will walk the streets dressed as monks offering free blessings. The last two years, these events have greatly blessed hundreds of people. A Youth With a Mission Team has asked to work with us this year, and Pastor Phil will be training them in how to minister in unique environments like Salem, MA with large numbers of Witches and other types of Neo-Pagans.

April Alario has been attending a school of ministry at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, and will be coming home to lead all night prayer as well. If you are interested in joining the all night prayer contact us and let us know.

Please join us in prayer for this last week of outreach as we seek to serve people from Friday through Halloween Day (Monday).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jeff shares his experiences in Salem with us

Our new friend Jeff spoke on Sunday last week, and blessed us. This week he shares a bit of his story of the experience in Salem during Haunted Happenings and all the outreach activities of The Gathering.

"Our front door - Half a million, that’s 500,000 if you are counting – people that is, that walk by the front door of the “Vault” – a former bank that was here for 200 years and is now occupied by the “Gathering,” a local church. I say “our” because the pastor assimilates people easily into the local body of believers and extended culture of Salem – so for two weeks, it’s been home.

Home includes extended normal conversations with a gnostic quoting random literature, a local witch who comes into use our wifi and loves just hanging out, a nationally known warlock who rides into the building on a Segway, some really smart intellectuals (Boston area has highest concentration of colleges and universities in the world), and a really diverse collections of people who believe a lot of different things or nothing at all – some come for internet, some for lecto divana a form of meditation on our Scriptures – the Bible – some come for Thursday open mic night, or movie night …

… and as I mentioned 500,000 tourists walk by the door and hundreds have sat for Spiritual Readings – simply asking the Spirit of Truth from the Creator to speak to us on their behalf so we can comfort, encourage, and build them up – and hopefully they catch a glimpse of a loving God who really really Loves the people He created. By the end of the month, the Gathering will have touched the lives of several thousand people thru Spiritual Encounters and dream interpretations, hosting kids day at the park, hosting a stage with eclectic choices of artists from opera to country to a Beatles cover band, hosting an Christian band doing Indian fusion and singing about Jesus in Hindi.

Just a question, but how can you find a way to interact with the lives around you? I am not content to go into a building, sing a few praises, to simply do it again in a local house mid-week. A friend of mine bought a house in the inner city of Durham, is rehabbing it as simply a space to have a presence in the community and interact with those who live there – no other agenda but to provide love encounters – and those go both ways. She gets it. I don’t always get it, but I am growing in walking in God’s grace, practicing mercy, and loving people. God’s truths about eternal live, need for redemption from sin, live in the Spirit now, and even the consequences of avoiding God’s love are real – how we as Christians or the “Church” haven’t always been.

500,000 might not pass by your door this month, but who are the 50 or so you pass by and maybe might touch with new love this week?"

Thanks Jeff. We really appreciate you and all you've done. May God bless you in your coming travels. You are always welcome to make your home here for a few days, a few weeks, or however long.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Update on The Gathering

The Gathering: an update on activities, outreach, finances and life.

Hi Friends!

As is the case for many of us in these wild times, The Gathering is going through wild times. Changes, challenges and gloriously wonderful experiences.

The Gathering has never been, since our inception, church as usual. Our friends are unique, our way of doing things is open and invites questions and responses, our outreach is innovative in this unique and world-famous small city, and our location is even weird and wild. We have had a great group of people involved in our lives over these first 12 years of our existence, and are thankful for every one of them. We would not be here without you. Each, and every one of you who have made this home - even for a season.

Here is the latest in brief:

• new faces are appearing almost every day at The Gathering
• an outreach to Burning Man is coming up in less than a month
• we have a new member - born today
• finances are as tight as they have ever been

Okay, that's the short of it. Here's the longer version:

New Faces from The Vault Alarm! Open Mic Night each Thursday

Thank you Chris Reiss, Dan Kupka, Will Spreadbury, and David Gerard. These four guys have been instrumental in starting an Open Mic night at The Vault. It was the brainchild of Chris Reiss, and Dan Kupka added his skills and influence and the first night 50 people showed up. It is quite fun to see the community arrive at The Vault and experience some fun, music and friendships. It's not a church service. It's not  a evangelistic outreach. It's just a community event, and our friends are enjoying it. After three weeks some of them like it enough to check us out on Sundays or at the Lectio Divina early Thursday PM service, and of course everyone is welcome to everything we do - but never pressured!

Burning Man Outreach

Matt the Pirate and Pastor Phil are headed to Burning Man deep in the Nevada desert. They are part of an art installation team which was Pastor Phil's crazy idea. They (along with other team members from around the U.S.) raised $5,000 on kickstarter.com, and will be erecting pillars in the desert which will be used to allow people to meditate and listen for "the voice of the Spirit." Please keep this project in prayer. They are hoping to film it and turn it into a short film documenting the voices people hear today.

New Member - Aria Marie Bennett

She was born to Ian and Brittany Bennett at 2:48 this afternoon. Yeah!


Many people have been asking how we are doing, and if we are still surviving. The answer is we are still here, and believing that we shall be able to increase to a place of stable financial support. So far, so good, but like many people in our country today the belt is tighter than usual.

Our space has allowed us to do things most churches only dream about in regards to reaching a community. In fact, many churches have joined us over the years to help us serve the city of Salem and it's 500,000 visitors. We have been able to hold this spot in a strategically beneficial location on behalf of many others over the years. Yet, it has not been without great cost, and just as it has been at some other points in the past our finances are crucially tight.

Our location and our unique and creative ministry have become a model for thousands of people over the years, and we are dependent on the prayerfulness and support of others often, because our church is so small; but our dream, our mission, and our work has been so large.

If you have been blessed by The Gathering over the years - please keep us in your prayers, and if you are able, we are most indebted and thankful for your financial support.

Blessings in most abundance upon you, and the God of Grace give you rest for your soul,
Pastor Phil

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friends create great open mic start!

Yesterday I posted about the friends of The Gathering creating a weekly open mic night each Thursday at 8:30. Well, musicians were playing 3 song sets from around 8:30 to 12:30 last night, and throughout the evening about 50 people attended.

Chris, Dr. DK, Big MC LargeHuge did a great job of pulling this together. Thanks guys. You are awesome.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Have Friends! Rock On!

Friend can seem like such a distant and benign term in the world of Facebook and distant, sometimes only "virtual." Lately, "friend" has been meaning something else to me, and some of us at The Gathering. Our little church, has a rather large mission in the city of Salem, and we are parked smack in the middle of downtown able to interact with visitors and locals with regularity. October (of course) with it's 500,000 visitors makes us one of the most active little churches in the world.

That is all to set the stage for the story of our friends.

Lately, money is tight. Okay, that's an understatement. It is always tight, but lately it is brutally tight - like many of us are experiencing. So much so, that there is concern about the ability to maintain our mission in our current location at The Vault.

Enter stage left our friends. People who are either very new to this little church called The Gathering, or friends in the community who simply like us are concerned, and want to help us out so that we can survive here and do well.

Tonight, some of those friends - those people simply "liked" are proving that friendship and liking are more than a distant facebook phenomenon. They are beginning a weekly Open Mic at the Vault to raise a few bucks to help us out. So to, Dr. DK, Big MC LargeHuge, David Gerard and the initiating force of all this - Chris! Thanks. You guys are awesome.

See you tonight guys, and to everyone else - hope to see you there too.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Pub Theology solves world's problems every month

Well, maybe not, but we sure have fun sitting around the table and discussing theology and life. June we discussed the question of "Why?". Our question for the evening was "Why Why?" That is, why do we ask the question "Why?" and why has this question plagued humanity throughout history.

This month we forgot to order fried pickles. That is critical, because we've decided that ordering fried pickles is the solution for world peace.

Here's the gang sitting around solving the problem:

The discussion led to the consideration of the difference between good and bad questioning. We discussed when the question leads us to a place of stagnation, and when it leads us to personal growth.

This month, on July 26th, we will consider the most important event or movement of the 20th century. What is the premier defining event of the 20th century and why? Join us for this consideration on July 26th at The Old Spot.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Burning Man Art Project

Pastor Phil has designed and is leading a team of artists to build an art installation at Burning Man at the end of August. Below is a video prepared for the project fundraising, which will give you an idea of what it is like:

David Gerard, one of our own from The Gathering has provided an ambient music meditation CD to help raise the funds for this art installation.

Consider helping to support this project, and keep us in your prayers.

Pastor Phil

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Service 2011

Good Friday musings at The Gathering today:

Gathered by candle light around the reproduction of the celtic cross from Drumcliffe, Ireland.

"Cast a cold Eye on Life on Death, Horseman pass by" These are words upon the grave stone of William Butler Yeats who is buried in the graveyard at the church in Drumcliffe, Ireland. They were not a focus of our time together tonight but they do highlight some of our thoughts.

We talked about the revolution which is the cross - a revolution which eventually shall overthrow all the Kingdoms of this world through a violent sacrifice of love.

Jew and Gentile, Church and State, You and I are responsible for the death of Christ.

Heather Leigh asked a what if question - what if the end was not determined or known by God, but it was big chance He was taking? This is a great Good Friday question, because we are faced with that same question every time we are forced to live out the revolutionary nature of the cross of Christ.

We also talked about the dead tree which the Lord was hung upon, and how it seems to speak of this earth day. The dying Creation was used by humanity to torture and kill the shepherd of the earth. How apocalyptic can it get?

David Gerard helped organize the service - thanks David.