Phil Vickery: Welsh chef extraordinaire and missionary
They all share the same name and all have been TV chefs at some point. But only one of them is a newly appointed Missioner for Wales. The name is Phil Vickery. One is a celebrity chef and the second is a former English international rugby player who won celebrity master chef in 2011.The third Phil Vickery has owned his own restaurant, appeared on TV and is now finding creative ways to share the gospel in south Wales.
Before being appointed by Cutting Edge Ministries (CEM), Phil and his wife Maggie owned a north London restaurant, Les Gallois, offering Welsh food presented with French flair. This led to numerous appearances on BBC Wales and also to mistaken identity.
"My royalties were once sent to the famous TV chef who shares my names and he sent them back to me. However I later received his royalties for his Ready Steady Cook series in Australia, which I duly returned," laughs Phil.
Established more than twenty years ago, CEM aims to work in "accordance with its name, not confined to the traditional church mindset. We pioneer at the leading edge of evangelistic outreach".
It has four missioners, including Phil, engaged in sharing the faith with people often marginalised or not on the radar of most churches. But CEM isn't a church planting organisation.
"We will work with a church for as long as they want us to, helping them with their mission. Our approach is long term and incarnational and we're always looking to enable fresh expressions of the gospel," he said.
In addition to being a restaurateur and chef, Phil has also worked for Youth for Christ, Teamwork and the Church Army. After recently completing his training at the South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff, Phil saw the CEM job advert and applied. Within days he was offered an interview and offered the post. This new role covers the whole of south Wales, from Pembrokeshire in the west to Monmouthshire in the east.
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So it's a big patch. But Phil is focused and knows the direction in which he's heading.
"My background is urban; I'm also a qualified social worker. Because of this I bring a social action and transformational slant on my evangelistic work. For example I'm currently working with a small Baptist church which is a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) referral point, involved with Foodbank and has built a community garden. My job is to make relationships with the people who are there."
For three days a week, Phil is working alongside Blaencwm Baptist chapel at the far reaches of the Rhondda valleys. It's post industrial and an area of high unemployment. The social challenges are very great but the chapel has its roots in the Welsh language and any mission work needs to reflect this diversity. "We need to work out how we do this. Do we hold bilingual services, English and Welsh discipleship groups. These are big issues."
A recent pub closure in this village illustrates the scope of Phil's work. "I've been introduced to this guy who has set up a gazebo in his garden and invites his friends around to drink beer around his fire pit. Ralph Upton (the minister of the church) and I went around and we spent the evening talking about faith. It was a great experience but I don't know how it's all going to pan out. I wonder what a fresh expression of the gospel will look like in this context.
As Phil's work develops in south Wales, his training as a chef may come in very handy. He will need the right ingredients, flavours and customer care to serve the Christian faith in a culture that has largely lost contact with the local church.