SALEM — A pastor who was expelled from his denomination for forming close friendships with witches took issue on Thursday with a number of evangelists who were preaching repentance on the streets of the Halloween capital of the world.
Phil Wyman and his group “The Gathering” have been attending Halloween celebrations in Salem for nearly a decade, providing live music, hot chocolate and various readings on the popular Essex Street in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem, known as “Witch City,” was the location of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and has a long history of witchcraft and paganism that continues to this day.
Because of Salem’s roots, the city hosts a month-long celebration of Halloween each year called “Haunted Happenings.” The events include a costume parade, witch-centered dramas, psychic readings and public fairs and carnivals. On Halloween, the streets of Salem become especially congested with trick-or-treaters and other costumed revelers—numbering upwards in the tens of thousands. A number of occult shops are especially visible during the month of October as well.
Several years ago, Wyman, who refers to himself as a “spiritual adventurer” and “modern mystic,” applied for a grant from his former denomination–the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Pentecostal denomination founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in 1927. In a recent fundraising video, Wyman states that he asked for the grant to found a church that would “make friends with witches and atheists.”
“We did something few other Christians in the world were doing,” he states in the video. “We loved the witches and they loved us back.”
He said that he wanted to make peace with the witches and to converse about matters of spirituality. But according to an article from the Salem Patch, Wyman does not necessarily seek to convert pagans.
“Theology doesn’t work like that. I don’t think I have the capability of converting anyone,” he told the publication. “I don’t look at the Christian salvation thing as a sales pitch. That’s God’s job. I talk about practical things. Why can’t I just have a regular relationship and talk about the Red Sox?”
During an interview earlier this year on “Live From the Bay With Joey,” Wyman explained that during one Halloween celebration, he ran a confessional booth that was frequented by 35-40 area witches and pagans.
“We didn’t have them confess to us, but rather, we confessed the sins of the Church and apologized for hideous things that had happened, not only down through history but in recent times,” he stated. “That was evidence that we cared.”
In 2005, area pastors became concerned that Wyman was getting too close to the witches in the city. Wyman’s district supervisor sent him a letter, outlining that his actions went too far.
“I feel you are not seeing the vulnerability you are opening up to regarding demonic activity,” he wrote. “It is my judgment … that you are crossing the line into the aberrant.”
Wyman was summoned to appear at a denominational hearing that year, and was expelled the following March.
That was seven years ago. To this day, Wyman continues formulate friendships with witches and pagans in Salem, and makes it a point to be at Haunted Happenings each year to put a charismatic twist on the celebration.
On Thursday, Wyman and other volunteers with “The Gathering” were on the streets of Salem offering destiny and tattoo readings, dream interpretations, father or mother blessings and healing prayers to Halloween revelers. Wyman also was responsible for “Fountain Stage,” which featured a variety of Halloween entertainment, including American Idol contestant Angie Miller, the daughter of Pastor Guy and Tana Miller of Remix Church in Salem. Other bands included the Tokyo Tramps, Mamadou Diop and One Hot Mess.
But Wyman also took issue with a number of evangelists who were on the street calling men to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. During his interview on “Live From the Bay,” he explained that it is his custom to send men dressed in monk costumes to chastise street preachers and put distance between them and the area witches.
“When street preachers were harassing them, and somebody would call and say, ‘Help Pastor Phil, there’s all these wild street preachers out here and they’re [verbally] attacking our psychic fair,’ we’d send people dressed up as monks to stand between the situation,” he said.
On Thursday, Wyman again sent a monk to chastise evangelists preaching on the street. Christians who witnessed the exchange noted that the man became extremely angry—to the point that he was shaking–and the crowd eventually turned against him.
“It breaks my heart. It’s sad, really sad,” Sean Bishop, an evangelist with True Gospel Baptist Church in Salem, told Christian News Network. “There is so much that is wrong with their attacks against us street preachers, but they do it every year.”
Bishop, who has been preaching at Haunted Happenings for the past six years, said that he observed the monk, who was visibly “full of hate in his heart,” spewing profanity at a 14-year-old last year. He stated that Wyman’s congregants often support the crowds for their rejection of the preaching.
“They join hands with these hecklers that are God-hating. They laugh with them,” he explained. “[Wyman] listens to the witches’ beck and call and he turns his sheep after us. It’s horrific.”
Bishop, who attended the event as a participant for many years before becoming a Christian, says that his only motive in preaching on the streets is his love for the people.
“I preach a compassion for souls. I really do want them to go to Heaven,” he said. “If you see a burning building with people in it, how loud would your voice of warning be? You would do whatever you can to get them out.”
Bishop remarked that Wyman is presenting a “false love” in defending the witches. He says that he prays for Wyman and the costumed monk on a regular basis, and hopes that they will come to understand Biblical evangelism.
“He doesn’t understand how much we pray for these people. We weep for these souls,” he stated. “It’s sad to see that he claims he’s a believer and is attacking what we’re doing out here. … It reminds me of Jesus’ words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”