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Sally Phillips was the giggling receptionist in BBC2's 'I'm Alan Partridge' and one of the comedy team in the irreverent 'Smack the Pony' on Channel 4. One of the few Christians in comedy, it was discovering that Satanists exist that frightened her into faith.

 

About this section
Jesus isn't just a religious figure out of the distant past. Some people have had encounters with Jesus which have changed their lives – and in this section they tell their stories.

Sally Phillips was talking to Andrew Rumsey. This interview first appeared in Third Way magazine.

       
    I became a Christian on July 17, 1996 at 3 in the morning in Hammersmith shopping centre. I had tried to become a Christian at school, but been put off by someone coming in to talk to the Christian Union and explaining that God had sent them a pastel green Volvo estate car. I went to Oxford and got increasingly anti-Christian. I felt I'd been targeted – people were leaving Bibles outside my door. By the time I left, I was incredibly irreligious.

I did an hour of blasphemy at the Edinburgh festival in 1992, a show called Jesus II: 'He's back from the dead, he's cross, he's everywhere and he wants your soul.' We had a picture of Jesus on the front holding a machine gun. We attracted loads of vicars: they got up some kind of movement. That probably started the process.

I was very happy with my anti-Christian stance, I felt all Christians wore bad clothes, didn't think things through and were very smug. But I felt uncomfortable being blasphemous in front of vicars, so there was some remnant of decency in me.

Then four years later, I started researching a sitcom about witches. I read 'objective' studies of witchcraft by people who call themselves things like 'Arcon Dara'. My belief in the natural world became slightly threatened.

I started seeing evidence that I believed: when people cast spells things happened, and when Buddhists chanted things happened you wouldn't expect. So that was a bit worrying. And more so to discover that Satanists appeared to exist. I thought that was all rubbish, but I was uncomfortable with the idea that some people are actively supporting the other side. Even if it was all rubbish, it would be nice if there were people supporting the right side as well, just in case.

Then I started getting very bad nightmares. Working in comedy, a very unChristian environment, it was impossible to tell someone that I was going through a religious trauma. I wasn't sleeping, or if I was, dreaming that Satan was found and free. I'd wake up and feel an incredible evil in the room. After a couple of months of saying the Lord's Prayer, I'd be walking along the street singing, 'Breathe on me breath of God'‚ and standing outside bookshops wondering how embarrassing it would be to go in and buy a Bible.

At which point I ended up on a sitcom festival in London. Unusually there were two Christians there. One was an actor trying out comedy, the other was a stand-up trying out acting. Since then I've worked with only one other Christian, so it gives you an idea how few there are.

I got caught in a pincer attack between these two – one a Sierra Leonian evangelical, the other very Anglican and not prepared to give me many answers. In fact, the very English one said 'You're only interested in Jesus because you haven't got a boyfriend.' That was the rudest thing anyone had said to me in years, but it worked.

The Sierra Leonian guy prayed for me at 3 in the morning in Hammersmith shopping centre, and that seems to have done the trick too. Then Milton Jones, the stand-up, rang and said 'There's a church near you, why don't you try it?' so I said, 'Right if God is real, I'll go there and meet somebody similar to me, and if not it's obviously just a hiccup in a space-time continuum.' But something very peculiar happened. I walked in and instantly met someone with exactly the same background as me. She was a Christian and we're still best mates.

Things have definitely changed. It's easiest to tell with the writing. Before I became a Christian it was quite unhealthy – full of things I was angry and hurt about. In a black depression I would sit down and write a poem called 'Misery is Liquid' then put it in a character's mouth on the radio because it was so poor. There'd be people laughing at my real emotions, which is psychologically quite bad for you.

Since I've become a Christian I've become much more clownish‚ doing simple characters who are slightly in trouble all the time, but mean well. That's how I experience my Christian walk. All comedy explores human weakness, but perhaps my characters tend to know their weaknesses. Comedy unites people. It dispels fear, which is interesting for a Christian. There are things you might not want to dispel fear or discomfort about, though, like promiscuity, say. There are boundaries.

Yes, Christians are discriminated against. At the beginning it was awful. I had people shouting at me basically because they were very frightened – frightened that you judge them, and frightened that it's true. But recently I've really sensed a change in climate – perhaps because I'm more confident in my own faith and denying Jesus less!

It would be disastrous for me not to belong to a church, because I'm so isolated anyway. It's broadened my outlook enormously. You can see that celebrity is a repulsive and useless thing. It's like having a spare salad bowl; since you've got it you may as well use it for the church bring-and-buy. But sometimes it's a bit exhausting, especially because you're obviously very vulnerable as a new Christian. I'm massively unsorted out.
 
             
 
 

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