Since the last blog post about three weeks ago, I have added three more festival outreach events to the frenetic place, and have stayed with friends in Pontypridd, Cheltenham and Plaisley. I created a few podcasts. One about the travels and two of them interviewing Matt and Jo Arnold, who I stayed with in Plaisley near Sherwood Forest.
I moved on from the three festivals in Wales (Focus Wales, How The Light Gets In, and the Hay Festival). I stayed with my friends Andrew and Dawn in Pontypridd and spent a day seeing the site of the festival they are running in August – Between the Trees. It was a gorgeous location and festival worth considering. The gathering is a mashup of folk music, science and philosophy near Bridgend in a hidden little gem of a forest.
From Pontypridd I traveled up to the Appleby Horse Fair in northern England. Due to a series of weird circumstances it took me 24 hours to get there by train and bus, when it is only a five hour drive. I missed the last train to Appleby from Leeds, and had to spend the night in the late night eateries, or at the train station. The following morning the ticket machine ate my money, and I missed the first train out, and then the second train broke down, and I had to wait two hours for the next train.
I eventually arrived in Appleby, and the first person I met turned out to be a pioneer vicar in a neighboring town, and she and her pioneer vicar husband invited me to stay with them for the weekend of the festival.
The Appleby Horse Fair is the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe. I did a podcast specifically talking about my experience at the Appleby Horse Fair, and you can find it on my Patreon page. I am hoping to return to Appleby in the future. It offers an opportunity to learn about one of the most misunderstood people groups in the UK. One of the great duties of life, and particularly of mission, is to understand the other we disagree with.
Following my time in Appleby, I traveled back south and stayed with Matt and Jo Arnold and their three boys. They live near Sherwood Forest and Matt took me on a Sherwood Forest tour while I was there, and we did a couple podcasts together. Matt is one of the few people who regularly works with the same demographic of people I do, and it made the podcast with Matt fun to do. Jo works for the Christian Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies, and this made the podcast with Jo a unique experience, as we talked about Christians who have experiences they cannot put into the typical Christian theology box.
Part 2 comes up next with stories from the Fairy Festival and the famous Glastonbury Festival.
If you would like to support my podcasts, you can become a patron on my Patreon Page. You can also find a link on this website to donate to the mission of reaching the subcultures of this world through festival outreach, and mission to places where our world’s nomads live.
I have now been as many festivals in the UK this year as weeks I have been on the ground. These first three weeks have been in North East and Mid-East Wales. First in Wrecsam, which I outlined in the last post, and then two weeks at the book town of Hay-on-Wye.
I created a podcast from the philosophy festival at Hay, and this is my update after leaving HowTheLightGetsIn and moving across town to the Hay Literary Festival. I worked as a volunteer steward at the BBC stage. I have done this over the last three years, and this group has become a family away from home. I ended up writing signs for the events, and this year we were able to move the sign making up a notch. It became a bit of friendly competition between three of the many stages who were trying to art up their upcoming event signage. I posted boards I created, and the reason for wanting to help the festival become a better event on another of my blog pages. You can see the chalk boards I created on that page. I saw the work as a way of being a good witness in my desire to help the event be a better experience for all who attended.
I spent much of time with new and old friends talking about life, which typically includes my personal testimony about meeting God, my theological work in Wild Theology (the belief that God, the world and people are all wilder than we’ve been told), and discussions about the growing number of people who identify as “none” on religious polling and census data. I also spent a good deal of time speaking Welsh. Surprisingly, I found fluent Welsh speakers living at Hay-on-Wye. Although it is in Wales, it is on the border, and there are few Welsh speakers in the small town, and I think I have met most of them over the last five years.
I camped in the trees above the Wye river in my hammock. Each morning a young Dunnock full of peach fuzz, but able to fly flitted among the branches around my tent, and I would talk to it. On the last morning, I took down my tent and as I untied it from one of the trees, the young bird jumped on a branch as close as he could get, and stared twittering at me frantically. It was as though he was upset that I was leaving him. I wish I had taken a picture of the cute little guy for you, but Dunnocks are quite nervous and jumpy little characters that flit among the branches. So here is a Youtube video of an older Dunnock singing.
I am now in Pontypridd with Andrew and Dawn, and preparing to leave for the North of England for the Appleby Horse Fair, which is Europe’s largest gathering of Gypsies and Travelers. More news to come soon.
If you are interested being a part of these travels and outreach in festival and destination locations, please contact me. You can also support this ministry through donations at the link below.
At 8:30am, the Virgin Atlantic flight left Logan airport in Boston for London Heathrow. I had purchased a round trip flight for just over $350 some months previously. It was one of the best prices available this year, and I had booked it through Delta Airlines, but immediately jumped on the tickets when I saw that it was a Virgin flight. I had the row of five seats to myself.* During the flight, I met Kaliko, a man who was born on the Isle of Wight. As a young man he was adopted by a lady in Hawaii. Today he is a fluent speaker and teacher of the Hawaiian language, and an activist for minority polynesian languages. Kaliko and I will be following one another in social media from here on out, and I hope that someday our paths pass again.
After arriving in Heathrow, I caught the London Underground to Victoria Station, and from there caught a £9 five-hour Megabus ride from London to Liverpool. During the bus ride, I met Alex. Alex is Russian/Lithuanian but has been living in the UK for years. He is currently homeless, and quite happy to be so at the moment. He plans to spend a few months in Liverpool working, and making some money. He has been befriending other homeless, and sharing God’s love with them for about three years. He showed me around Liverpool, and I am hoping to be able to get back there to see him again before I leave the UK in August.
40 hours after leaving the US, I finally arrived in Wrecsam in North East Wales for the Focus Wales event. I stopped at a pub in Wrecsam to get my bearings and try to connect with people I had contacted on the Couchsurfing network. I walked past a place called Saith Seren (Seven Stars), and saw a “Cofiwch Dryweryn” (“Remember Tryweryn”) sign, which was evidence that this could be a Welsh Language Pub. I stopped in, plugged in my computer, spoke to the bartender, who was fluent in Welsh for a bit, and got to work on the computer. After getting a bit of work done, a man came into the pub who appeared to be in charge. He talk with the bartender in Welsh, walked around the room straightening a few things up, and stopped to speak with me in English. I responded to him in Welsh, and his eyes got real big. He asked where I was from, and after a about 10 minutes of conversation in Welsh, he asked if he could take my picture. He took my picture, and unknown to me posted it on Twitter and Facebook with a comment about meeting me, speaking in English, and how I responded in fluent Welsh with a heavy American accent, and said, “Phil is from Massachusetts.” In a short time the post exploded with hundreds of likes and responses from Welsh speakers. For the next two days, people in Wrecsam would recognize me from the picture on Facebook or Twitter, and friends of mine from across Wales would respond to the posts.
That night, I was not able to connect with the my potential Couchsurfing locations on the first night, but that is not something to stop someone like me with a hammock tent. Late that first night, I met Cary. He is a homeless drug addict in Wrecsam, and has lived there his whole life. He showed me around to the hidden “wild camping” locations around Wrecsam, and the spot he has been living in his tent. We talked about what it is like to be homeless in Wrecsam, and the troubles he has with the other homeless who are heroin addicts, and alcoholics. He describes himself as an amphetamine addict, and struggles with the theft, and violence that comes from other addicts.
Focus Wales and Couchsurfing
By the second day I was able to connect with Katherine who had a place for me to Couchsurf in her home right next to Wrecsam’s center. I was one of three couchsurfers at her place. For the next three days, I volunteered at one of the music venues, which was St. Giles Parish Church. In the afternoons and evenings I worked with the small team at Saint Giles, and connected with people from around Wales in the music industry at other times.
I met Faith Owen on the second day. She works in Coleg Cambria in Wrecsam teaching Welsh. Turned out that her husband is a pastor of the Nazarene Church in the nearby village of Penycae. I traveled around with their family on Saturday to see some beautiful locations above the town of Llangollen like the Castell Dinas Bran (Castle Dinas Bran – see photo at the top), the ruins of a 13th century castle that looks down on Llangollen. The next day, I attended their services and experienced a beautiful and friendly group of Welsh believers.
I also spent some time with Dot Gosling, the purple-haired vicar in North Wales. Dot and I had been circling in similar orbits for awhile and finally met face to face.
During this same time, I completed a 5,000 word article for the Church Mission Society magazine, Anvil. The topic was “Spiritual but not Religious”. While I was completing the article, discussions popped up in Katherine’s home. Katherine, her partner Brian, another couchsurfer named Lauren, and I talked at various times about the nature of spirituality and religion. I’m hoping to see them all again in the future, because I had such a wonderful time getting to know them all.
All in all, this time in Wrecsam (“Wrexham” in English) has been fruitful, and relationships were developed with the festival and the greater community of Wrecsam.
* If you ever need help finding cheap flights contact me. I can give you the tips on flying cheaper than you might expect.
There are places, times, events, and even people where are hearts find comfort and feel at rest. These locations, times, events, and people represent hints of heaven. The Apostle Paul spoke of being “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth, and when we experience moments and places that feel more like home than home itself, we are also experiencing the transitory nature of human life. Our hearts seem to reach out toward that the places of possibility that are found with God. The heart that reaches out to God senses that these are the hints of heaven. This trip has been filled with festivals, friends, towns and moments that have been these kinds of hints of heaven.
A Cheltenham Home
I spent some days with Mark and Anthea Searle. Being with them is always like coming home. They always have “room at the inn”, there is a place I can leave extra gear when I need to travel lighter and quicker, and they are always as kind as can be. During this trip, I joined them at a Dyson family day (Mark works for Dyson, which is far larger and more impressive than I imagined.) I also was able to meet with Tony and Dwee Cooke, friends who are former Bridge Church Pastors, who are now doing a television show on Dream Interpretation.
Prepping for Eisteddfod in Cardiff
From Cheltenham I traveled to Cardiff, Wales in order to prepare for the Welsh National Eisteddfod. I stayed with Sera Owen and Robert Zyborski, who are great hosts and wonderful people. I spent an afternoon with Lois Adams (niece to Kevin Adams the Welsh Pastor from the Baptist Church in Lynn, MA) brainstorming outreach ideas, and I spent an evening with Dawn Wood and Andrew Thomas as well. This short jaunt to Cardiff was for dreaming up outreach ideas, specifically for the National Eisteddfod coming up in a little over two weeks.
A few days with Mike and Jules
Friends Mike and Jules have been a regular stop in almost every trip to the UK. This year, they are in a new larger house with a lot more land in Kent – south east of London. As always it was home away from home to be with them, and Mike acted as a tour guide showing me around Faversham, Canterbury, and the beaches nearby.
CMS sessions on Spiritual not Religious in Oxford
I arrived in Oxford minutes before 10am, when the one-day conference at CMS (Christian Missions Society) about “spirituality not religion” was happening. I was one of the plenary speakers for the event. A number of Christian ministry friends who similarly work in New Age and Neo-Pagan settings were there. As such, the gathering felt like coming home. People who understand living in and working in strange and wonderful settings were all together to share their wisdom with those who came to learn. Paul Cudby gave a primer on Neo-Paganism. Emma Moreton shared her beautiful and difficult story, which highlighted the tension of living this kind of life of ministry. Diana Dingles Greenfield shared on ministry in places like Glastonbury and festivals. Matt Arnold gave a well-balanced talk on the principles of reaching out to Neo-Pagan culture. I shared stories and corresponding truths connected the Father Who is waiting for us to join him in the places he has already preceded us – places like Burning Man, and Salem during the Halloween season. Glyn Moreton ended the day by leading us all in a time of worship and passing the horn in a celebratory drink to the Lord.
Homelessness in the Land of Higher Education The great wall between the haves and the have-nots
I spent the evening in Oxford, and was profoundly moved by the incredible distinction between the haves and the have-nots. Oxford is a city of higher education with ancient walled schools everywhere one goes, and at the same time, as the evening falls, the streets are filled with homeless people sleeping in doorways, and begging for change. The contrast is perhaps more extreme than any place I have seen in America, and it caused me to wonder how the world of higher education imagines changing the world for the better without looking outside its own front door.
Prague and Meziprostor
After spending a night on the streets of Oxford, I caught a plane to Prague. This was the second year that I was speaking at a spirituality and punk/metal festival called Meziprostor. “Meziprostor” means something like “the in-between space” in Czech, and the festival is designed to navigate the space between God and the world, Christianity and society, and across the spaces that divide people. Obviously, since this was the thesis for my book Burning Religion, one can see how much I might enjoy Meziprostor. This little festival, at the famous Czech Underground location, Skalak Mill, goes on my list as the best festival I have ever attended that accomplishes the task of being an “in-between space.”
I met Trey McCain at the airport in Prague, and one of the festival coordinators, Alexandr (Sasha) Flek picked us up. Trey and I spent a night at a Rainbow Gathering inspired community in an old mill just outside Prague. It is the inspiration and hard work of Sandy and his family who have been there for 16 years – oftentimes helping young single mothers with children. The next day we were off to the next mill, and the Meziprostor festival.
At Meziprostor, I taught a morning devotion on Saturday, and held lecture about “Why We Can’t Find Ourselves: lessons on contemplation and community from the desert fathers and mothers.” I will be sending my notes out to people who have expressed interest in this particular topic, so please let me know if you would like to receive them as well. On Sunday, a spot opened up in the schedule, and Sasha asked Trey and I if we would like to fill the slot. So, we did a hands-on workshop of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) meditation, and meditation on nature as a dialogue. We gave examples of scripture meditation in dialogue, and searching for God in nature, and sent people out to do the work, then talked about it together afterwards. Trey made an incredible workshop partner, and people appeared to both enjoy it and get something beneficial from it.
After Meziprostor, Trey and I stayed in a Hobbit Hut designed for Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones on the land of Mathias and Carrie. Cat Camissa, from Austin, who also came all the way for Meziprostor was there, and we spent a couple nights in Prague with Sasha and Katka and a host of friends in their circle. On Monday night, we went to a third mill, which is a pub on the river in Prague, and Tomos Sedlacek, the writer of the best-selling The Economics of Good and Evil was there. He joined the group, and there was a wonderful high-intensity debate over a pile of different topics between Sasha, Myself Tomos and a handful of others. I love a good hot debate with a hug and new-made friends at the end, and that was exactly what it was all about. We debated God, and science, and faith, and the state of Christianity, and a host of other topics late into the night, and rolled into bed around 2pm. These are the kind of things that regularly pop up in this traveling ministry.
Next Up: Cardiff and the Welsh National Eisteddfod
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Links to previous episodes of this 2018 Mission to Wales, Cornwall, Devon, England and the Czech Republic: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3