Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stars Shining Bright

Mary, Joe, the Shepherds and the Magi. As I reflect on four of the main players in the nativity story, I am reminded of their varied journeys.

Their starting points were all very different - a Godly young woman conceives, her confused fella needs angelic encouragement to stay at her side, unreliable shepherds are trusted first with great news and star gazers follow a long complex path.

Whatever their starting point and whatever their journey entailed, they all ultimately found themselves gathered around Christ - that in itself must have seemed light years away from their initial steps of their journey into the unknown.

The Christmas message - Immanuel; 'God with us' at it's grass roots, continues to meet us where we are, not where we think we should be.

However you choose to celebrate Christmas this year, I pray you will leave room for interruptions, for sign posts, for whispers of grace along the way of our many and varied life's journeys. Cheers for your support, your friendship & your encouragement over this past year.

I would also like to take this opportunity of thanking our many volunteers at Zac's Place over this past year. On this bitterly cold night I have just returned from our Thursday night soup kitchen - we have friends there who are in desperate trouble who see few signs of hope. I am so grateful for a loyal team of willing helpers who roll up their sleeves in 'spare time' and muck in: so to the school care taker, the teacher, the accountant, the vet, the social worker, music teacher, carpenter, metal worker and students - I salute you and thank God for you. You and others continue to be stars shining bright in a dark place.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our Neighbourhood, Our Issues & Our Attitudes

Ours is a city, like many others, with many complex social issues. Issues of addiction, prostitution, binge drinking, street violence, dysfunctional abusive home environments, unemployment and homelessness are all evident without having to look very hard.

We can either choose to ignore the issues, eradicate the issues with draconian laws or vigilante behaviour; or work together taking responsibility not just to make things appear better, but also to make a meaningful difference.

These issues do not become problems over night, neither will they be solved overnight. Our city is served by several agencies supporting those with issues of addiction - all of which have very dedicated staff working flat out amid increasing demand. We also have the reality of a local social services system that has been on special measures in the recent past, where again dedicated social workers are pushed to the limits with high case loads. Cutbacks in policing are possible and the increase in the number of licenced premises, 24 hour availability of alcohol in supermarkets and corner shops do little to encourage constructive changes in the way people behave and how we challenge and change antisocial behaviour.

The heroin addict sticking a needle in his arm, on the pavement as kids walk past on their way to school in the morning, has a moral responsibility of choosing where he or she injects. But the responsibility is to be shared across the whole community. The same principle can apply to those who choose to issue licences for alcohol to be served 24 hours a day in a corner shop or to withdraw funds from essential services that are tackling very ugly issues.

The reality is we need to wake up and smell the coffee folks. There is only so long a self centred, money grabbing, ego tripping culture can survive before the wheels fall off. The ugly nature of many of our social problems are what happens when society loves things and uses people, rather than loves people and uses things.

Maybe writer G.K. Chesterton was right when he wrote in response to The Times’ invitation to write an essay on “What’s Wrong With The World?”. Dear Sirs, I am.

Friday, November 05, 2010

THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE HEARTBEAT OF ZAC'S PLACE (Part 1) - featuring clips from Rick Elias & Rachel Taylor-Beales

Since the beginnings of Zac's Place way back in 1998 in a smokey Swansea basement bar, music has had an important role. These days we don't get chance to put on many gigs, (Barry McGuire recently), but for the first seven years much of what we did revolved around weekly sunday night gatherings in four different bars with great live music an integral part of the communal gatherings.

Coming up over the next few weeks I'll put a few posts up with video and maybe audio clips looking at some of the artists who we have had the pleasure of sharing the journey with. They'll include seasoned pro's and emerging artists who have since matured into established musos in their own right, artists from this city and overseas, genres of folk, rock, metal, dance and jazz - who do you remember, what would you like to see and hear again.

As a starting point here's two clips - one from Nashville based Rick Elias who I met, via Sam Horner, when he was gigging in the UK with A Ragamuffin Band. Rick kindly returned to play two songs on our TV shows with HTV Wales and also in the bar. Here's a recent home recording of his, of an old song 'Blink'. Enjoy.

Of all the cries that come from within the spirit of folks at Zac's Place is is, 'please don't push me away, don't forget - don't pass me by'. The following recording of Rachel Taylor Beales live at our HQ in 2008 shares the angst, frustration and the search to make sense amid the chaos. Rachel and her husband Bill continue to be great friends and inspiring artists, based in Cardiff - 'Please Don't Pass Me By' ....

Check back in the coming weeks for some more clips and don't forget to check out John Smith's podcast - where there is his message from the night with him guesting back in August ....

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Part 2 from 'The Office' archives .... with John Smith

Here's Part 2 of John Smith's banter from back in August 2002 when Zac's Place gathered in 'The Office' - they were great times and this particular night was no exception. Smithy opened up the 'Old Book' and shared a couple of stories in the packed out public bar - bikers, musicians, artists, believers, seekers and cynics among them . . . . for a few moments the pool table, pinball machine and the bar fell silent . . . .

have a listen and ponder ... if you like it ... share it among your friends.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

VINTAGE ZAC'S PLACE LIVE FROM 'THE OFFICE' -'If you can't handle the organized Church - create a disorganized one...!'

Whilst sorting through some old recordings, I came across a disc from August 2002 when Zac's Place was gathering on a Sunday night in the public bar of The Office pub in Swansea city centre. On it was an interview with John Smith and following that a short reflection from the Bible. The link below is for the interview and covers questions on being jailed and facing excecution, life influences and church struggles.

What's remarkable, is that this was recorded in a public bar to a mixed audience of around 150 people - bikers, musicians, artists, believers, seekers and cynics among them . . . . for a brief moment the pool table, pinball machine and bar fell silent . . . grab a few minutes and take a listen . . . .

You can also find John's own podcast here:
(Part two of this recording will eventually be posted there)

A direct link to the podcast can be found HERE.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our Tribal Gathering at Zac's last week was a little different to our usual, as we welcomed Barry McGuire to share some stories and songs. It was great to have the main hall packed with some folk making a journey of several hours to be there. Barry himself had travelled four hours after having flown in from California.

It was wonderful hearing his life's journey as he shared his stories of carving out his career in music alongside his mates in The Byrds, the Mamas and Papas and hanging out in small coffee house gigs with Bob Dylan. He also shared his frustrations and heartaches as he's seen so many friends die from the lifestyle excesses along the way. Eve of Destruction remains his most notable work, but he rejects the 'protest song' label for it, stating that it was a 'diagnostic song', painting a picture of what was around at the time. Many of his own stories contained his search for the answers to questions in that song.

Several decades on from 'eve' and his desire to subsequently follow Christ, now at 75 years of age he took the stage for an hour and half with charisma, energy and passion that can only be admired. Zac's Place has a long history of live music and the arts - these days live music doesn't come around too often, but when it does it's worth savouring!

Here's a YouTube link to Eve of Destruction from that night - follow the links through to Liz's additional uploads as they appear.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Barry McGuire at Zac's Place

One final reminder about the event at Zac's Place on Tuesday night. We welcome singer songwriter, Barry McGuire from the USA for what will be the first event of a short UK and Ireland tour. For over forty years Barry has continued to be prolific song writer, performer, story teller and truth seeker. From way back in the 60's when he was part of the New Christy Minstrels, His massive solo hit Eve of Destruction and legendary recordings with the Mamas and Papas colour a very rich past. His journey of faith and passion for the marginalised add textures that will make for a great Zac's Place evening and after all, - It's not every day we get chance to have a guest at Zac's that's performed at the White House - don't miss this opportunity!
Tickets are £12 (Any profits going to the work at Zac's Place)
Online purchasing available here:

You may also like to check this interview with Barry out ....

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


OK folks, hot on the heals of John's recent return visit and our collective pondering ... here's a link to John's new podcast page - kicking off with one of his regular 'This Is John Smith' - 'thought for the day' - radio spots, heard across Australian radio stations for years. More will be added on a regular basis - including the best of a huge back catalogue. Other features will also include video and comment.

Get in and subscribe early ..... "John Smith's message is for people who want to do more than just listen" Bono U2

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


We have a new option for online ticketing for Barry McGuire's 'Stories and Songs' event at Zac's Place on Tues 21 Sept.
You can find it at this link:
Advance purchase is advised to avoid disappointment on the night .....

See previous posts for poster . . .

Monday, August 23, 2010


Tomorrow, Tues 24 Aug, sees the return of Aussie John Smith to Zac's Place. Very much a tribal elder of our community of faith, he will continue to stir the pot, challenge and encourage all who hear him........

Tues 24 Aug, from 7.30pm
Zac's Place, George Street, Swansea, SA1 4HH.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Barry McGuire Promo Poster

Print it, forward it, pass it on to others who maybe interested ......

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Barry McGuire at Zac's Place

An Evening With 'Barry McGuire' - Tues 21 September, 2010.
It's many years since Barry's massive hit 'Eve Of Destruction' but he continues to be a prolific singer, songwriter, storyteller and truth-seeker.

Tickets will be available at regular Zac's Gatherings from the end of July or by post by sending an SAE with a cheque for the correct amount payable, (£12 per ticket), to 'Exousia Trust' to Zac's Place, George Street, Gospel Hall, Swansea, SA1 4HH. Online purchasing is also available via paypal at this link for £12 plus a booking fee - just print out your purchase and bring it with you.
Any profits from this event will be going back into the work at Zac's Place.

Here's a snippet of a reworked 'Eve of Destruction' recording with some updated imagery ...

Check out Barry's website and the biog particularly .......

Swansea, WALES (21 September 2010)
Motherwell, SCOTLAND (23 September 2010)
Newton le Willows, UK (25 September 2010)
Preston, UK (26 September 2010)
Dublin 1, IRELAND (30 September 2010)
Portsmouth, UK (2 October 2010)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

'Beat the Beast' Fundraiser at the Uplands Diner this Friday ...

Thanks to the folks again at the Uplands Diner: Here's the info from their website....

UPLANDS DINER 'BEAT THE BEAST' Fundraiser for Zac's Place:

Uplands Diner need 20 people to enter a Beast challange for Zacs Place cost to you is £6.95 for the monster of a Breakfast - 'The Beast'
There's a chance to win £50.00 first one to eat it all and if ten poeple complete the challenge, the Uplands Diner will give Zacs Place a cheque for £250.00

Zacs place is a place where homeless poeple can go for food & the Uplands Diner provides the food on a Thursday night.
Located on the counter in the Uplands Diner is also a collection box if you ever have any spare cash ... Thanks

PS: think you can manage it?
THE BEAST - 6 bacon, 4 sausage, 3 eggs
chips, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, spaghetti, toast
bread & butter, hash browns, tea/coffee/orange juice

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oh yes, you know it's been a good night down the chapel when there's soup up the walls and blood on the pavement.

Usual chaos at Zac's reigns in glorious technicolour - mainly soup, blood occasionally, sweet tea certainly and plenty of home cooking. It's certainly been a lively few weeks at both the soup kitchen and at our Tribal Gatherings- it's been a while since I saw a complete bowl of soup emptied over someone's head! Oh yes, you know it's been a good night down the chapel when there's soup up the walls and blood on the pavement. Was good to be back in the prison a couple of times, to take some meetings with the lads there, not only for a quieter life, (although there was pretty much a home crowd on one of the wings!).

There's a couple of Zac's related media features I've done in recent days too which I'll put the links for. Last Friday I did a phone interview for a podcast put out by bunch of similar thinkers in Nottingham - you can here the resulting podcast from this link here - mainly chatting about how Zac's Place came about and what I've learned along the way.

The second is a video clip snippet from an interview for Fresh Expressions, when they sent their man down to meet us about a month ago - expect interviews with some of our regulars to feature on a DVD of theirs next year ... Here's a video preview of one of my contributions talking about God on the margins

For all it's odd moments of chaos, it's still a place of special connection, learning and earthy spirituality.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Number Of The Beast is 2.50

It's official, the number of the beast is 2.50 - for Swansea folk anyway.

Our friends at the Uplands Diner, in the Uplands area of the City strangely enough, are very generously donating, to the work at Zac's Place, £2.50 for every completed plate clearing of their famous all day breakfast 'The Beast' - Pop in and give it a go!!

Our thanks and appreciation to the staff and customers who also generously donate via the tins on the counter and supply food for the Thursday night soup kitchen.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

"A Hell Of A Weekend" - Easter Thoughts - Part 4

Imagine how different it would have been when the girls rocked up at the tomb, where Jesus' body lay, to discover it wasn't empty. And also to discover that neither was it closed up, with a couple of bouncers at the entrance. There's a third option; I sometimes wonder what the reaction would have been if they'd showed up, saw the stone rolled away and as they peered in; saw Jesus sat on a stone bench. Maybe he would be picking his scabs and making mention of having had 'a hell of a weekend' and could they 'nip down the Seven Eleven to get some paracetamol'. Fully alive, but still sat in the tomb, not daring to venture back out into the world.

As bizarre as this thought may be, the reality is that for many Jesus followers, the tomb, is as far as we dare to live out our faith, naval gazing and scab picking. For many and varied reasons it becomes all too easy to live in a Christian ghetto where life becomes stifled, beige, bland and disconnected with reality. The resurrected Christ walked out of the tomb, back into a kaleidoscope of colours, contradictions and questions - back in the company of his mates and their 'warts and all' world - not just watching it walk past his narrow window on the outside. Just as well really.

Got a life? Get walking.

Cheers and God bless ya this Easter time!

Luke 24:1-12 
(From The Message Translation of the Bible)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Don't Forget To Pull The Curtains and Put The Lights Out - Easter Thoughts - Part 3

In the recorded stories of Christ's crucifixion the ripping from top to bottom of the 60 foot curtain veil in the heart of the temple is more than a bit of a gust blowing through. This massive curtain was only to be ventured behind by the most devout and on very few select occasions - access was seriously restricted, and denied to 99.9% of people, but it was all part of Israel getting it's house in order with God and the limited access was understood and respected.

When Jesus breathed his last all kinds of wierd stuff happened - including this curtain tearing in two. The way was now blown wide open as a result of Christ's sacrificial death. Access into the presence of God was no longer for a select few on a particular date and time in a designated holy place. Intimacy with God - the seeking and granting of his gifts of forgiveness, grace, mercy, hope, justice, peace - came out of the confines of the temple and into a wounded world for real.

The story of Easter - of Jesus the Nazarene - is not just for a religious few that have got it all together - it's the stuff of revolution as the 'temple courts' are filled with the most unlikely. Bob Dylan picked up on a similar vein:

"Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an worse An for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe An we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing."
Bob Dylan - Chimes of Freedom, 1964

Freedom had a price. Freedom is a gift.

Luke 23:44-46

Friday, April 02, 2010

What Jesus Never Said - Easter Thoughts - Part 2

What Jesus Never Said ... whilst hanging up, butt naked before a mocking world ...

"That's right you lot, bugger off and leave me here to die, you bunch of wasters"

.. I think we find what he actually said ran more along the lines of, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing".

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Thoughts - Part 1

I've always been quite impressed with the response that G. K. Chesterton gave to the question posed by The Times newspaper, 'What is wrong with the world?' - the reply came simply as; "Dear Sirs, I am."

To a greater or lesser degree throughout the history of humanity we've have been unbelievably successful at defacing so much of what is beautiful, sacred and cohesive. The decay of a physical world and the prevalence of the law of the jungle extinguishes all but the most stubborn flickers of light.

But in the embers the Easter message continues to burn as 'The prophet in rags gives hope to a fearful world'.* Amid best mates' betrayals for cash incentives, desertion and denials, kangaroo courts, and dodgy dealings the death of Christ was surrounded by people like us. Human frailty meets the eternal. Truth and justice collide with catastrophic and miraculous consequences in equal measure as Christ wrestles, prior to his arrest, with the question; 'is this a road I have to go down - a cup I have to drink?'

At the heart of the Easter story there remains an ember that burns in the darkness - sparks of hope, flickers of light, shelter from the cold for 'problems in the world' like you and me.

* 'Man Of No Reputation' - Rick Elias

Sunday, February 14, 2010

'Swansea Love Story' on Valentine's Day

This week's release on Vice magazine's online tv station, of VBS's much anticipated documentary on heroin addiction in Swansea, is already causing a stir. 'Swansea Love Story' was filmed over six months last year and follows the lives of half a dozen young addicts - all of whom, are familiar with us at Zac's, some are very dear to us.

When I speak in different venues and churches, I often share elements of stories from Zac's, not because they are shocking, but I genuinely believe I have learnt more about God among the poor and on the margins of society than anywhere else. Serialized this week in six episodes, later to be shown as one film, these captivating scenes are graphically shot in a dark raw honesty that shows the desperate search for intimacy and meaning, in a chaotic lifestyle fuelled by rejection, pain and the scourge of heroin. The council, police and tourist board of Swansea won't be thanking anyone for these films but I tip my hat in the direction of Andy Capper and Leo Leigh who made the film. But the problem is not just a Swansea one, it is repeated in our 'civilized' western society the world over, city after city.

We have chosen to be a mission church amid the chaos and pain; not because we have more answers than anyone else - because I really don't think we have, but because I truly believe it is a Jesus model. When a teenager wants to know why God had allowed her to be raped, forced into prostitution and given to heroin addiction; patronizing well meaning answers fade into insignificance, as you tend the latest wound inflicted by those with her 'best interests' at heart.

My heart aches for our friends trapped in a cycle of destructive behaviour. My prayers of the triumphalistic happy clappy hullaballoos two decades ago have long since faded, replaced by a cry of pain that will not be compromised by a more comfortable way.

Mother Theresa often used to say "God turns up in the most distressing disguises". I know he lives in this ugly lovely town too. Hope I don't miss Him when he does.

You can watch the programmes online at in Rule Britannia series, Swansea Love Story - Episode one of six is HERE or watch below. Go to main site for the rest. Be warned the images are graphic and the language is course and some links from the site are of an adult nature.

(Image at the top from VBS Blog film promo)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Holland, Michigan & Bono's Shades

It's been a well travelled past week and a half. A weekend road trip to Holland and back to visit the Dutch God's Squad Associates and their endeavors in making great connections within the biking community there. It was great to catch up with all of them and their families plus guys from Finland and Germany too.

Sleep deprivation meant I was a bit fuzzy headed for the Zac's gatherings on returning - cold floors in a salvation army hostel, but in good Zac's tradition light glimmered in the darkness! Then before I knew it, after precious family time, I was on the dreaded National Express airport bus at midnight after coffee bar at Zac's. Four and a half hours of the M4 and arriving at Heathrow airport feeling like I was jet lagged before embarking a flight for Detroit via Washington DC.

The weekend visit to USA was to see the official launch of the chapter of God's Squad there - it's been a long road for the guys there - five years, so it was a real sense of celebration. The usual round of club visits and sharing stories in bars and over meals finished with an unexpected opportunity to preach at a small Wesleyan Church that our guys in Michigan attend. (I had all of five minutes warning! I guess the upside was it gave no time for anyone to escape!

Fortunately I enjoy travel - I thrive on it in fact, places and people on the road continuing to be opportunities of learning . It's also the best and one of the few places I get chance to read and ponder. This return leg of the over night flight I was reading 'Bono on Bono' to while away the time and particularly liked this quote from him;

"It's impossible to meet God with sunglasses on ...... Without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw".

Very 'poverty of spirit' that - nothing left to hide - here I am God, warts and all. Maybe it's when Bono prays he confidently removes his shades.
Here's a few snaps of friends who showed me great hospitality in Michigan;

Tony and Janice

Brian (r) and his brother Cliff

Tom on the right who heads up the club in USA and Prophet on the left - very jealous of that stetson!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Partnership Working Helps Homeless People in Swansea get checked out…..


Thursday, 3 December 2009
A Health Day for the Homeless proved a popular place to be today.The annual event was held at Zac’s Place in Swansea with the aim of checking the health of Swansea’s homeless and providing flu jabs and other support.
During the event two dentists undertook oral health assessments, two podiatrists provided foot assessments and care, staff from the community mental health team were doing mental health assessments, and nurses were on hand to administer seasonal flu and swine flu immunisations.

In addition, staff from the Swansea Drugs Project were on hand to provide drug and alcohol advice.

In the first two hours over 30 homeless people popped in to get their check up.

Picture: Podiatrist Glen Rees

A sign of the importance of the event, two people were referred for further urgent medical care.

Janet Keauffling, Nurse for Homeless and Vulnerable Adults in Swansea, said:

“ It has been very successful both in terms of the care that it provides to people who might not otherwise access health care, but also in getting health professionals to work more effectively together to provide care for homeless people with complex needs.

“This year we are being assisted by 47 medical students from Swansea University School of Medicine. To our knowledge, this is the first time medical students have been involved in such a significant way in providing health care to homeless people in Wales. As well as their help being invaluable, it is also intended as a learning experience and an opportunity to develop their clinical skills.”

After the health assessment a welcome tea or coffee was on hand along with cakes and goodie bags full of various toiletries like toothbrush & toothpaste, socks, shampoo, soap, tissues etc,.

The data that has been collected will also provide the first ever baseline assessment of the health of a group of homeless people in Swansea and forms a vital part of work being undertaken by ABM and other agencies on improving the care of homeless people.

This event is supported by the Swansea University School of Medicine, Big Issue Cymru, Cyrenians Cymru, The Wallich & ABMU Health Board.

If you need any further information please contact Janet on 01792 470129 (9-1 weekdays) or via High Street Surgery 01792 460015.

Source: Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board