For the last few years, Paul ‘Werzel’ Montague, a candidate for ministry with the Uniting Church WA, and Rev Chris Bedding, rector at Darlington-Bellevue Anglican Church, have been known around town as Pirate Church. Since the comedy duo was created, many have caught the Pirate Church bug. The show has toured around the country, and in 2015 won Best WA Comedy at the FringeWorld Awards.
On the back of Yurora NCYC 2017, the Uniting Church in Australia’s National Christian Youth Convention, and in the lead-up to the Perth Fringe Festival, Paul and Chris sat with Heather Dowling, editor of Revive, to chat life, faith, comedy and pirates.
Heather: So, how was Yurora!?
Chris: I was genuinely impressed with Yurora and I’m the kind of person who is not easily impressed.
Werzel: And may I say proud to be part of the Uniting Church. I reckon this might be the best thing that the Uniting Church does. We have so many brilliant people across the church and they’re spread across the country and to get them in one place, at one time and offering such a great program that respects its audience and talks to 16–25-year-olds as if they’re intelligent people who think about stuff – that’s amazing.
Chris: Yeah, it was inspirational. And that’s from me, Chris, who is rarely inspired anymore. I have a cold, dead heart. And Yurora set it a little afire again and it was beautiful.
Heather: Tell me about Pirate Church theology.
Chris: Pirate Church operates in what we might call an alternative universe and the nearest comparison would be Narnia. So when you go into the pirate realm you meet various characters. There’s the Dread Ship Fisher o’Men, which is the ship on which the pirates sail, and their mortal enemy is the Armada. The Armada represents power, the misuse of power, wealth, corruption, sinfulness, injustice and the Armada holds sway over the world; they’re in charge of the world. So the pirates represent a voice of hope, rebellion and dissent, defiance against the Armada and they are led today by the Ghostly Parrot which is kind of a cipher for the Holy Spirit.
But they’re also guided by the example of the Captain, who built the Dread Ship Fisher o’Men and taught the pirates how to be pirates and who was ultimately killed by the Armada. The Deep is both a reference to the wide ocean, but also a more metaphorical way of talking about what in our world we might call God. So the Deep is a creating force, sustaining the world, and scary.
Werzel: The thing about the pirate crew is that everyone belongs. On the Dread Ship Fisher o’Men this comes up in our sea-shanty lyrics, in our log readings, in our pirate prayers and sermons. That everyone – the maimed, the ugly, the mad, the foaming at the mouth, the stinking – there’s no-one so socially undesirable that they don’t completely belong.
Heather: How does Pirate Church fit with your other roles in the church?
Werzel: I think beautifully. At one level it integrates me as a stand-up comic to me as a preacher and evangelist. On the other hand, it is preaching and evangelism. It’s both entertainment and there’s a sense of something evangelistic happening. I wouldn’t say it’s missional, I wouldn’t say it’s outreach, but the Gospel is there.
Chris: Fundamentally, Pirate Church is good news. We do satire and we do take the mickey out of the church and we do mock ourselves and the broader church, but that’s because we love the church and we love the good news.
Werzel: It’s not polite news. It’s a version of the good news with, you know, some salty language, but people respond to it.
Chris: Some people find elements of Pirate Church offensive, inevitably, and in fact sometimes we find parts of it offensive. And we always think long and hard about whether we’re being offensive just to get a shock reaction or whether the offence is caused in order to make a greater point and to achieve a greater good. Christianity is not just for nice middle class people to be outraged because someone said a swear word or said something negative about another person. In fact, we come from a perspective where the Gospel is actually offensive and challenges people and causes them to have to change their view of the world.
Werzel: I think the word for this is ‘provocative.’ If people aren’t provoked by Pirate Church, we’re not doing it right.
Chris: I’m a pirate all the time, even when I’m not doing Pirate Church.
Werzel: Yeah, preach it.
Chris: So, even in my own parish or in the other kinds of ministries I’m involved in, there’s always a pirate element to that. I think we’re both people who probably shouldn’t be Christians by any sense of logic or rationality; we should not be in the church. There are a lot of other ways to get fulfilment; there are much less stressful ways to live. But we both have a sense of vocation to be in the church, and to find a salvation by being in the church. So Pirate Church for us, and we hope for the people who participate, is a way to be in the church in a piratical way that enables them to find what their salvation looks like.
In a sense, it’s been a salvation for us.
The paths of being in professional ministry and of being an artist were always held a bit in tension. At this point in my life, I feel like I’m getting fulfilment from both ends, but I think initially, I thought I had to choose: I could be a priest or I could be some form of artist. But now I’m like, why not both, as the ad for tacos reminds us.
Heather: There are lot of people, I reckon, who could get value out of that.
Chris: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Werzel: To harp on a point, I feel like Pirate Church, for me, has helped me make that jump. When I was in my early 30s I really felt such a powerful division between being a stand-up comedian and a Christian. I felt like you can’t be both; not the kind of comedian I was. There’s no way. I loved comedy too much to ever become a naffe, safe comedian. Because doing comedy is dangerous and edgy and I thought ‘there’s no way I can reconcile these two, I just can’t.’ And Pirate Church has been a big part of the pathway of going, ‘you know what, it’s all me and it’s all who God has called me to be.’
God speaks to me in both… there is no both. It’s the same thing.
Heather: Do you find people get inspired in their faith journey through Pirate Church?
Werzel: People gush with excitement! Idon’t know if anyone’s gone out there and become Mother Teresa because they saw a Pirate Church show. But I really think people have had a sense of being re-energised and reinvigorated.
Chris: People get energy from Pirate Church and it provokes them often to do good, or to change, or to grow. And that’s such a thrill to us.
Pirate Church: Burn it with Fire will run on Sunday evenings at Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den, Perth throughout the Fringe Festival, 29 January–19 February. Tickets are available from the FringeWorld website at https://www.fringeworld.com.au. Find out more about Pirate Church at http://piratechurch.com.au or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.