Editor’s Note: To read part one of this story, you can go here.
The funeral passed for my friend the witch. The weeks following were filled with strange conversations and changing relationships. I sat down with small groups of witches gathered together over the common love of their friend, who had recently passed away. I hugged more witches on some days than many mega-churches will in their entire existence. I saw the witchcraft community struggling with the issue of respecting the dead. There were some who had seen my friend as a threat and were taking their shots at him now that he was dead.
"Do you think he is in hell?" I was asked this question by more than one person. His Pentecostal mother cried each time we talked over the phone. Even a Pagan asked me that fearful hell question. Believing that the mercy of God is greater than we can imagine, knowing the price Christ paid for believers’ salvation, I replied that God is the judge of all things beyond the grave, and I know that He loved our friend more than any of us ever could.
On Friday the 13th, a memorial service was arranged in Salem. This was the first notable witch to die since the Neo-Pagan revival had made its way to our little New England burg in the early ‘70’s. The organizers of the memorial service needed a sound system. Our church had one. We offered it. I was asked to speak and wondered how I might be received by a room full of Pagans.
Friday the 13th arrived. Jeff, our assistant pastor took the sound system down to the Old Town Hall. I arrived later, and helped set it up. Our close friend who was leading the service sang out a chorus from the musical Wicked.
"Do you think this song is OK? Should I sing that last phrase, ‘They reap only what they’ve sown?” Our friend the witch asked us.
I responded with a slightly twisted, but obvious smirk, "Of course you should sing it. It is from the Bible after all."
Our singing friend was the main speaker. He was nervous. He asked for advice about his "sermon." We all laughed that he called it a sermon. Jeff and I remarked to one another how pastoral he appeared. He may not have looked like a Christian pastor, but he was trying to care for people in his unique Neo-Pagan way.
Later that evening we arrived for the memorial. The room was filled with people strange and common. Black is the color of choice for these events, but this was blacker than usual. Some were dressed in ceremonial robes, some in street clothes and some in wild neo-medieval black leather garb. People gathered in small clans, and the room was abuzz with whispers, greetings between distant friends being reacquainted, quiet laughter and tears.
I made my way around the room meeting new people, and saying, “Hi” to recent acquaintances and old friends. I counted four Christians in the room of somewhat over 100: three from our church and a Quaker.
The group of four witches running the service began to introduce the people who were asked to speak. They would simply say, "and now we will hear from John." I was last in the order.
The Quaker man stepped up. He began, "An Atheist, a Witch and a Quaker went to Transylvania." The room roared at this joke introduction. He held well over 100 people enraptured with his hilarious stories of their real travels together.
My singing friend approached the mic to introduce me, but he said more than, "and now we will hear from Phil." He called the witches in the room to remember a time some 15 years previous when the Pagan and the Evangelical Christian communities were aggressively antagonistic to one another and remarked that those days were past. Then he credited me for the transformation and openly called the witches in Salem to follow my example. I rubbed my eyes, and doubted that our little church was as influential as he suggested. He spoke my name. I stood and walked to the platform to the sound of applause.
An Evangelical Christian pastor being applauded by a room full of witches—my little world was weird, but it exponentially increased in peculiarity that moment.
"These are the thinnest of times, when the veil between the world we live in and the heavens becomes transparent …" I hailed back to the early Christian and their idea of “Thin Places”—times and locations where heaven and earth meet as I described the experience we all have during the loss of loved ones. But I wondered who really stood at this uncomfortable junction between the worlds. Was it those who lost their friend? Or was it I who had made these new friends in a world so unlike my own?