As a professional illusionist with the Magic Circle and a trained Evangelist working with J. John, Revd. Tim Saiet has a great deal of experience and skill in communicating with his audience. As a parish priest, Tim has used what he has learned to communicate the gospel using visual illustrations. He is passionate about The Church embracing creativity in its mission and ministry and in this Spotlight Interview, he tells Mandy Carr why.
MC: What encouraged you to become an illusionist and how did you learn to perform on stage?
TS: I used to do magic as a child and I loved watching live variety shows. I got into this because I was doing mathematical tricks and I bumped into a fellow ex-Royal Marine. I showed him my mathematical tricks and he said ‘that’s great, but nothing compared to this’ and he demonstrated sleight of hand. I was so blown away by it I got him to teach me everything that he knew. Then he put me in touch with a world-class magician who lived nearby. When I left the Royal Marines in the 80’s and there was a man willing to teach me magic, I saw an opportunity to better myself. If you want to be good at magic you have to work hard and rehearse, especially if you are going to make a living from it, so I practiced six hours a day and very quickly accelerated. At this time I wasn’t a Christian, but I do remember having a sense of destiny when I decided to go full-time. I felt a stirring inside my chest that I’d never had before and I can only look back and say that was the Holy Spirit.
MC: What was the highlight of your time in the Magic Circle?
TS: It was being chaplain to the Magic Circle. To be a good chaplain you really needed to go every week and live in London. By this time I had a very young family, a new church and I lived in Hildenborough, so even though it was a highlight, after a year I handed it on. I would also say winning some awards in competition in the Magic Circle and winning awards representing my country in some of the big international competitions were real high points.
MC: How have you combined performing illusions with evangelism?
TS: I never thought of using magic tricks for evangelism other than informally, when I was in a bar or restaurant performing magic with friends. Someone would ask me how I got into magic and we’d get onto the subject of me being a Christian. It changed when I went to see a guy named J. John, in 2000 – and he said to me ‘you’re not ready to do evangelism.’ He looked for five qualities in order to do evangelism: Christian character, talent, calling, maturity and teachability. He said that I had three out of five. He said ‘I’ll keep praying for you.’ Then I didn’t see him until 2005. At that time I was on the staff of Holy Trinity Brompton and I bumped into him again in the car park. He said ‘Oh I remember you’ and then ‘God has just told me I’m going to work with you.’ My response was ‘your nuts!’ I then told him I was leaving to go to Wycliffe Hall to train for ordination at the end of the year.
When I was in training he called me to do an event with him. The first event I did with him was in front of 9,500 people in a marquee for the ‘Just 10’ event, – I think he was testing me to see if I could do it. Then I did the Lyric theatre and other big events. He was coaching me while I was at Wycliffe and then he worked with me through my curacy and at the end of that, he offered me a full-time job. He said ‘I think that the performing arts have a very powerful voice in Society and because you are performing illusions and magic, it is a very good instrument for breaking down barriers and creating empathy and creating space for people to hear the message; they laugh their way through the stories and illustrations, they want more and don’t feel it’s a hard sell.’
I started working with him and the first time I did a proper full gospel message, he heard it and said it was terrible. He said ‘you need to illustrate everything and make it a 9/10, if you can’t, you need to drop it and get another illustration.’ So we dropped 85% of the magic material, bought in new material, which he helped shape to make it more compelling and more illustrative of the points we were trying to make. It’s important that the trick should never be stronger than the message. If you focus on the message the trick helps illustrate it. It needs to be very well thought through.
MC: What other creative forms of evangelism do you enjoy?
TS: The Arts – theatre is powerful, singing, the performing arts; art – artists – can be very profound. God is creative. In natural law we look around and there is something going on in creation. The world is telling us to be creative. We see it in the way that God is using that. God is creative and we as a church need to embrace that and be creative. There are so many things that inspire me about creativity; it’s not just about the performing arts, it’s anything that has beauty that can talk about God.
MC: What do you you think is the most important message to the church about mission at this time?
TS: Real change requires taking radical responsibility, not just hoping. If we are in decline it is not working. Jesus is working. The message is always compelling, life-changing and current. The vehicle we deliver this message on is not working. We have many churches that are historical, beautiful buildings but not built for working with children, people with disabilities, for toilet facilities, for heating, for comfort. We’re trying to shoehorn a lot of the modern stuff into some of these buildings that can’t cope with it. So the buildings I think can inhibit encounter. So – it’s the way we have the courage to do what we need to do in the buildings.
We’re also not recognising a compelling creative story to reach people. We expect them to fit into our historical way of doing things. Many of them don’t understand why we do stuff and we don’t explain it to them. It’s a bit like a private club where we don’t tell people what the rules are. With some very simple changes we can make the church very accessible for people who have no understanding about why we do what we do. That means we need to change the way that we do things and that will take courage and some people won’t want to change.
MC: Are you working on anything now?
TS: Creatives and artistic people in the church need to be given a platform to be creative. It they don’t three things will happen: 1) they give up and get demoralised 2) they leave and go somewhere else where they can be creative 3) they do it in a different way that isn’t in the church. The Church isn’t very good at assessing who is good at what and finding an avenue to develop it. We don’t like new faces doing visible things too early on. We have to earn our stripes. We trying to change that here so people can own ministry.
Parish life can dull creativity. I’m not being as creative as I once was because the structures in which we operate are very hard, although I can be creative in assemblies. I can also help others be creative. We have quite a lot of artists in the church so we’ll have a service for the Arts, where people can do Christian art, then we’ll have an artist painting throughout the service and we’ll record that and put that online. I’m being creative through others rather than myself.
One of my passions is creating an environment where people can meet with the Lord and flourish. Discipleship is about developing the gifts of the church where everyone gets to contribute to the Kingdom and they own the mission. Helping them develop their spiritual gifts and natural gifts is important. I love watching people flourish and grow and getting them off the sidelines to play on the pitch. I communicate faith by using visuals and I want to help them believe that with God anything is possible.
Here are three of Tim’s clips of Tim’s interviews and examples of how magic is used in evangelism.
If you want to contact Tim about any of the above please do so through the website http://www.stjohnshildenborough.co.uk