Between the Trees and Back to Caernarfon 

Quick Overview Update:

It’s not quite a week that I’ve been back from my six days at the Music and Science Festival in Merthyr Mawr Reserve in Pen-Y-Bont in south Wales. I moderated a discussion on Welsh Independence put on by YES Cymru, and I was responsible for a small space called “The Cwtch”, which basically means a nice little cuddle type of hug. The Cwtch was the space for outdoor open mics. Later the open mic performers took a late night stage of the best of the open mic musicians. In all there were 6 open mics over Saturday and Sunday of the Festival.

On my return to Caernarfon, I had to immediately move out of the apartment I was in, and am now in a temporary residence once again. A super special thank you to Rhys Davies, who’s [lace at Tŷ Glyndwr in Caernarfon is fun temoporary space.

Now, I am trying to once again immerse myself in the Welsh language experience in preparation for next year’s year-long walk around the country without speaking anything but Welsh for a year.

Cerdded â fi yn 2023!

If you are a Welsh language learner, and would like to join me for a day, perhaps longer, walking and talking, stopping for a pint, participating in pub gigs, learning Welsh history and Welsh stories and myths…all in Welsh; then mark August 2023 on your Calendar. That is the starting date for my year-long walk and talk. Details of the schedule and events to start coming together soon.

Details from Life in the Festival and Life in the Town

Before Between the Trees, Stephen Simmonds and I set up The Cwtch, the area which would become home to the Open Mics and the Festival Choir, along with other assorted set up duties. 

Once the festival began, I had two main duties. On the Friday evening, I moderated a discussion on Annibyniaeth (Welsh Independence from the UK), which was organized by YES Cymru (a pro-Independence Movement). I jokingly commented that it was rather strange to have an American moderating a discussion on independence from England. It was a robust discussion with people agreeing and disagreeing openly, and getting along despite the differences.

Saturday and Sunday, I ran six Open Mics. The first four were in the beautiful outdoor unamplified setting of The Cwtch. On Sunday afternoon/evening, we held two sessions on the small stage. The level of skill coming from the open mic was remarkable, and included some of the performers from the large stage testing out their new material. Each session ended with me leading all the musicians together in playing the song from the Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues. I’ve translated the song into Welsh, and so I would do a verse or two yn Gymraeg. Elv Saw sent a video of us singing Fisherman’s Blues with a bit of Welsh to the Waterboys a couple days ago, and they responded back noting that it was “awesome.” Some of us are currently considering how to keep the Between the Trees Open Mic Sessions going throught the year.

Throughout the festival, I had many discussions on spirituality, which included the use of the number of old churches closing, and how those buildings might be used for both social action and spiritual renewal.

Upon returning to Caernarfon, I had to move house immediately. The place I’ve been renting was sold, and they wanted to close on the sale. I had a contract that allowed me to stay through November, but I felt that it was best to accommodate the previous owner as much as possible. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” the proverbist tell us. (Proverbs 22:1) So thanks to my good friend Rhys Davies, I am currently staying at Tŷ Glyndwr inside the old town walls of Caernarfon. If you ever come to stay, and are looking for an affordable place, this is a really nicely run bunkhouse in a beautiful old market/pirate town which locals often call the Welshest of Welsh towns.

Since being back, I’ve been spending my time getting to know the local musicians and the “Cofis” (Caernarfon townies). I’ve been playing music in the Market Hall, and spending time with some of the native Welsh speakers, soe of whom drink and curse like sailors, and we end up talking about spirituality and God. Much like living in Salem, Massachusetts, I feel like I have moved into a festival town where people are open in both mind and heart. This is why I am here, because I find this place to be one that has hard shell on the outside at first impression, but is incredibly soft of heart. God has his hand on Caernarfon in a remarkable way––that is, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Please keep us––this town and myself in your prayers.

Life at the local church, Caersalem feels full of vibrant life and grace, and the church at its pastors (Rhys and Menna) can use your prayers as well.

Bedydd efo Capel Caersalem – Baptism with Caersalem Chapel shortly after this they go down into the river just beyond the trees.

Eight Days of Welsh Language Immersion

Eight days of intensified Welsh. This was not an organized class, or structured language learning. This was the yearly cultural event called The Welsh National Eisteddfod. 100,000+ people come to participate in, and experience this most vibrant of Celtic languages and the culture that undergirds it.

This was a place where I was forced to stick to speaking Welsh most of the time, and I struggled like a fool to understand the presentations, performances, and conversations around me.

In this event, people from all over Cymru (Wales) travel to spend anywhere from one day to the full eight days in competition, music, theater, dance, and language-based experiences. I had an extremely wet beginning, and started the event with a deluge, and the post my hammock tent was tied to began leaning in the softening soil of the dark wet night. If you know anything about hammock tents, you will know that that whatever you are tied to needs to be solid or heavy rains will certainly visit your sleeping space…and well the heavy Welsh rain did visit me as the pole slowly leaned over through the night.

The following day, everything I brought with me spent the afternoon in the drying barn at the dairy farm. This was a good test for ‘Trixie’, the carbon fiber travel guitar. Yes, I can confidently declare that she can withstand Welsh rain!

After this soggy start, I settled into spending my days immersing myself in Welsh. I spoke with other learners. Sometimes was called upon to do a bit of Welsh language teaching in the Learners Tent. Two of those learners (Miguel and Maisy) were students in Bristol. Maisy from Hong Kong drew a picture of me in about fifteen minutes and made my day. I spent the days and evenings in discussion with Christian groups working on the Maes (the festival field). I spoke with bards and musicians. I bumped into friends from across Wales and struggled to keep up with the conversations and presentations at the Eisteddfod.

One morning Pastor Rhys Llwyd, from the church I am helping in Caernarfon, spoke and I followed up with a couple songs I’ve written in Welsh. The picture of the moment, taken by my friend Faith Owen, is in the photos below. Great connections were developed, and I look forward to developing the map and plan for my Walk across Cymru (Wales), which I plan to begin at next year’s Eisteddfod. There would be far too many people to thank for the moments at the Eisteddfod, but Alun the farmer, Twm the Bard, Andrew the pastor from London, and Carwyn and Simeon from the Baptist Union get a special nod for now.

The benefits of this week will show themselves for months to come, and I anticipate that the connections I have made will benefit my plans to walk around Wales speaking nothing but Welsh next year.

After the Festivals – Back Home in Caernarfon

I arrived in Wales, caught COVID on the first night. After a short quarantine, I got better. It was a bit like being turned into a newt. Then I spent the next six weeks traveling to five different festivals, which my previous emails outlined. Well, now I am back in Caernarfon, and it’s time for a little rest––okay that last bit is a bit of a lie. So, here’s the update of what has happened, and not happened, since arriving back in Caernarfon.

  1. I’ve received notice that the place I am renting is being sold, and that I will need to move out by November 10th. Now that’s rather hilarious because it’s also my birthday. I’m not really worried about it, but it is a strange coincidence. Prayers will be appreciated, because finding a place to live in Caernarfon is not an easy task at the moment.
  2. There was a March for Welsh Independence in the recently designated “city” of Wrecsam. I went with Gwyn Williams to the event, and accompanied a few thousand people in the happy celebration
  3. Capel Caersalem, the Baptist Church that has sponsored my visa, had a weekend camping festival. I spent the whole of the last week preparing for the event by leading a team of girls from America, who are here with the Greater Europe Mission, to help Iwan and Delyth organize their lovely piece of property, just outside Caernarfon, for the the little festival. There were about 50 of us from the Chapel, and I was the speaker on Saturday night. We met around the fire. I spoke partly in Welsh, and partly in that foreign tongue––English, because that’s about the best I could do with my limited Welsh. I sang a few songs I’ve written, and two of those were in Welsh as well. I think it went well––at least that’s what people told me. I told a short story about my personal connection to Wales, and more specifically to Caernarfon, which I will need to put onto podcast soon, and then I spoke about the subject of love. Love is such a common theme in Biblical sermonizing, and today it is popular to make love the primary basis of our Christian lives. I challenged that thinking a bit by suggesting that we become like what we love, and that it is possible to have love go astray and in all wrong directions.
  4. Well now it’s time for a bit of a rest from a month and a half of solid festival work – I wish! Now the really hard work begins. During our little Capel Caersalem festival, and now in the town of Caernarfon, I’ve been spending time working on my Welsh language skills. I walk downtown and sit with the locals on a bench in the town square. We talk, I barely understand a word they say, and squeeze out the words I know between their thick accents and what sounds like mumbling. I stop at the local pubs and hang out with people I know. Those who are involved in Welsh TV, radio, and music are typically easier to understand than most of the other natives. Performers and actors and radio personalities work on their diction and are less likely to mumble or use strange local colloquialisms, of which there are many in Caernarfon. Most of the time, my brain feels like it is on overload. I suppose I am improving bit by bit, but every now and then, the little spinning color wheel of death that happens to your old Mac happens to my brain.
  5. The basic things are taking forever! I have only been in Caernarfon a little more than two weeks out of the last 2 months due to my travels, and I am having a heck of a time getting my personal banking and the details of my health care in the UK set up. Every time I try to get something accomplished there is another little detail that someone hasn’t told me. Hopefully I will have a bank account and be fully connected to the Health Services in the next couple days.

So the next couple months are all about working toward fluency in Welsh, and establishing the connections in Caernarfon to be able to bring blessing to this town, which has been called the heart of Cymry Cymraeg (Welsh speaking Welsh). 

Traveling Toward Cymru (Wales)

Since my last email update there is much to report. I spent time in Texas. I am now in North Carolina, Salem is coming up, and my first trip in the transition to Wales has been booked.

Let’s walk backwards through this story:

Leaving for Wales – Part 1

Yesterday, I booked a flight to Wales for arrival on August 19th. I will spend my first two weeks in South Wales helping my friends Andrew Thomas and Dawn Wood prepare for Between the Trees festival, which is a mixture of music, science, philosophy, and spirituality. It doesn’t get any better than that for a festival focus, does it? 

After Between the Trees, I plan on spending the rest of my time in and around Caernarfon, North Wales. The focus of this part of the trip is to prepare for my move, which I am hoping will happen at the beginning of this coming year, and to set up plans for all the crazy ideas that fill my head with how to be a positive influence in this town that has captured my heart so deeply.

It is my goal to hit the ground running wherever I go, and of course, this means much of the preparation for ministry must happen long before one lands on the ground. Before moving to Salem, Massachusetts, I sent some years traveling there, and bringing my friends with me, before we all moved. Fortunately, I have made friends and acquaintances throughout Wales over many journeys to the land of my heart, and I have been preparing the way to be able to start working in ministry as quickly as possible. 

North Carolina

Right now, I am in Greensboro, NC with my dear friends Gail and Charles Bretan. I so deeply appreciate their kindness to host me in their home as I jaunt about the state. I have spent long hours with Charles talking about life, religion, philosophy, politics and just about every bunny trail of thought. His Jewish/English professor’s views on the world are always a challenge and encouragement to whatever I happen to be studying and writing. During this time, I have hung out with his podcast partners, Chris Henson, and Rev. Helena––the ampersand of reason. We even did a podcast together, which is a good thing since my own podcasts have come to a halt during this traveling season. This will be posted on their podcast page: A Jew and a Gentile Walk into a Bar…Mitzvah. ––> https://charlesandchris.net

Papy has graciously loaned me the use of his car, and I have been able to spend a couple days with him. I was able to hang out with his parents who are wonderful and dong well, and then we’ve twice now with Robert and Kelly Williams. It was like old home time with one of the Salem outreach teams.

I spoke on Sunday morning at Fellowship of Christ in Cary, NC. I am grateful to have spent time with this wonderful church. You can access the message online at their website ––> https://www.fellowshipofchrist.org/sermons. On the sermon page, you can find the morning I spoke on the 2021/07/25 video in the right column of the page, and I begin at about the 30-minute mark. Spending time with Pastor David MacLean, John Craichy, and other friends from Fellowship of Christ was the real highlight of my time with them. I always feel as though I receive more edification from others than I give, and I am so grateful for all the good people I know around the world.

Before going to Cary, I spent some of my first days in Asheville. Asheville has been a home away from home for a long time. My son, Elijah, used to live here. I have Burner friends, Emergent friends from the Wild Goose Festival, Rainbow Gathering friends, and assorted others. Most of my time was spent with the Deifell family. There was a memorial service for Jey, the patriarch of the family, and fortunately, I was able to be there for this event. It was great to spend time with the whole family. My initial contact with them was Burning Man, where I first met Hope and her brother Tony. Since then, I have done several mission activities in which Hope has been a vital part of the organization and outreach. My time in Asheville is often at Heather and Richmond’s house, which is just too fun.  I am quite sure that Richmond and I start laughing as soon as we see each other, and we don’t stop laughing until I leave. It’s scary how close his humor mirrors my own…hmm, perhaps I should feel bad for the poor guy.

While in Asheville/Black Mountain, I met with a variety of other people. Hope Deifell introduced me the Dean of Spiritual Formation at Montreat College where she works, and it turns out that Rachel Toone and I had several friends in common. I spent time with fellow hippie ministers: Joshua and Shallyn Hanson, of the Rainbow Gathering Jesus Kitchen, at their new Nomads Land property outside Asheville; and then it was tacos and ice cream with Cate, who has worked in places like Rainbow Gatherings, Haight Ashbury, and the Goa. I also saw my Wild Goose festival friends Mike and Jasmin Morrell, and Steve Knight (for a second time). To top of a great time in Asheville, I got to see one of my Salem peeps who moved to Asheville a couple years ago––yes, the famous Glenn French! 

Texas

My first landing place after leaving California was Texas, and quickly I was swept away from the airport by David Brown, and we made our way to College Station. I caught the 4th of July fireworks at Texas A&M on that first night. Over the next 10 days I would also travel to Brownwood and Austin. I spent time with Chai, Shalom, and Zoe, and David, but Chris Gaston who is usually in Brownwood had already left for the Pacific Coast Trail which he is walking in full this summer.

I was headed toward Houston to see Paul and Joy Burwell, but Joy called and said they were in contact with someone exposed to COVID. Although, I am not concerned for myself, I needed to be wary for those I was visiting, because it included families and elders across the country. So, I missed the opportunity to see and pray with my good friends, the Burwells. At the end of the Texas trip I spent the days in Austin. I stayed with Robert, Kimberly, and Ian Watson-Hemphill. I was treated to some of the notable places of Austin, and Robert and I visited the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which is traveling around the country.

I spent a couple days with Cathryn Camisa as she in process of leaving one place for another, which was wonderful to see since it represented a season of deliverance for Cathryn. Cathryn and I met with Mike Clawson and Steve Knight, who flew in from Asheville and I would see once again in North Carolina.

Appleby Horse Fair and podcasts with friends: UK 2019 – Part One

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.

Appleby 4

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.

Matt Arnold at Sherwood

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. 

UK Mission 2019 – three weeks in

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.

One of the boards I created for the events at the Hay Festival.

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.

This is the area I set my hammock tent at Hay-on-Wye.

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.

UK Mission 2019 – first week in Wales

Arrival in Wrecsam, Wales

Castle Dinas Bran overlooking Llangollen

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.

Liverpool Library entrance

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

Saint Giles Parish

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.