The Reverend Phil Wyman has crossed the Atlantic to come over to Wales several times before, but this time he is coming to stay. ‘The first time I visited Wales was in 2003, and by now I know hundreds of people across the country.’ Arriving in Caernarfon in early May to work with Caersalem church, Phil has an exciting vision.
Phil had been an atheist as he arrived at college a young man, and he enjoyed debating with the Christians on his course. But things suddenly changed for him. ‘It still makes me laugh! I felt that someone was giving me a slap across the face, and the word ‘God’ came to my mind from nowhere. And the same thing happened a second time, but this time the sentence ‘Jesus died for your sins’ came to my head. It was amazing – but I knew it was a clear sign to me from this God I’d been arguing against.’
Phil became a Christian and threw himself into church life, helping with a recovery programme for people struggling with drugs and alcohol, and decided after four years to become a minister.
The Pagan community
From the outset he had a burden for people in new religions – people on the margins or involved in ‘cults’. That led him to Salem, Massachussets – a major hub for the neo-pagan community in America where thousands flock every Halloween. He received a call to be a minister in a church there, and began to realise that the nature of the town meant that the Christians in the area should focus on understanding the pagan community, in order to serve them and share the good news with them. ‘No one expects Jesus to turn up in the middle of a Halloween event – but why not?’ he said with a smile.
And so they hired a stall, and offering things like Psalm readings rather than Palm readings, and very soon people were coming to find them at the festival every year, hungry to hear more about this spiritual world that was so different from the spiritual world of witches and modern paganism.
This brought Phil to Britain, as groups such as the Church Mission Society began asking him to share his missionary experiences with them and train people. But he had always felt drawn to places on the margins, and when he got to know Wales, and her unique language and culture just a couple of hours away from London, he was fascinated.
God opened doors for him and the visits to the British Isles became an annual fixtures as he developed a ministry at summer festivals – places such as the Eisteddfod, Burning Man festival, Hay Festival etc. ‘The truth is,’ says Phil with passion, ‘it’s at in places like this that people in our society are at their most open. While people might not be willing to have a spiritual conversation in the office or on the train, when they let their hair down at a festival, you can talk about the big life questions so much more openly. And I’m convinced that Christians need to be there – listening, trying to understand and also sharing the good news of Jesus with people.’
The links with Caersalem developed over time, and by 2016 Phil had realized that God was opening the door for him to minister full time here in Wales. He has been learning Welsh, and is convinced that a placement in Caernarfon will be of great benefit to him to get to know the culture thoroughly.
Rhys Llwyd, Caersalem’s minister, said, ‘”I first met Phil 17 years ago when he came as part of a team to help run the Gorlan Cafe at the Eisteddfod and we have kept in touch since then. In Phil a number of worlds come together – obviously his Christian faith, but also his interest in philosophy, music and culture in general. He manages to bridge the discussion between those worlds in a way that Christians and the church in general have not succeeded in doing recently. I look forward to welcoming Phil among us and seeing him contribute to the conversation that needs to take place about how to share and live the Christian faith in this post-Christian era.”
Phil finishes the tale, ‘My vision is to help Welsh Christians think in new and creative ways about how to share their faith. I see Welsh culture as crucial for understanding and engaging with everyone in Wales, and I am very interested in the place of art and music in all this. One of the things I hope to do is to go on a walk around Wales, speaking Welsh only, and inviting anyone to come and join in the journey as I go through their local area. When people walk together time and space are created to discuss the world and life. God can use unconventional things like that!’