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Church for people who want to punch stuff

The Church needs pioneers. CMS director of mission education Jonny Baker tells one of the stories from his new book Pioneer Practice, about how one pioneer in Essex started a boxing club …

David Harrigan is a Romford boy through and through. Having come to follow Jesus in his 20’s, he wanted to work out how to connect the faith he had found which he experienced as giving him great freedom with others who had grown up in Romford.

Whilst he had learned to navigate the culture of the local Church of the Good Shepherd, he knew it was a big ask to expect people to step from their world into that. He lived in a council house just over the road from the church, but realised the people he lived with would most likely never step across the road into that building to hear about Jesus.

David says that there was no special formula other than they just lived and loved. He would spend time hanging out, just getting to know people by having beers on the stairwells, chatting and having BBQs in the communal garden.

While having a beer one evening with a neighbour they found a common interest in boxing, and spoke about how hard it was to get away to local gyms now they both had young children. He said “wouldn’t it be good if we had something local like a boxing gym?”

That was the spark for David – he stayed awake for most of the night, wondering if God was asking him to respond to this in some way. He began to dream and went to the church with the idea of starting a boxing community or as he puts it “church for people who want to punch stuff!”. 

They started with a weekly night, raised money to be trained as coaches and for some equipment and it grew from there. As well as the weekly nights it has been punctuated with  larger events four times a year such as a Maundy Thursday meal in a curry house. David has been surprised by their openness towards faith, and has even been told off if he shies away from speaking up about prayer or something spiritual.

Exploring the overlap

In a Venn diagram if there were two circles – the world of boxing and the treasures of the Christian faith – David is exploring the overlap between the two.

To give a few examples, some of the lads were baptised in the boxing ring in church. When they get together on a Thursday evening the idea of confession is there in punching the punch bags. If confession is unloading or lifting those mistakes/sins of life, then the guys do that. Through this something spiritual takes place.

At the end of this time they pray together, allowing something new to take place within them after they have self-emptied. It is an embodied experience spiritually, more than just the mind.

He has also led boxing compline! Compline is a form of night prayer. He created a boxing ring in the church. There were things to do in the corners of the ring and you moved on each time a bell rang. Afterwards when they all had a beer David asked them for their feedback. With beers in hand they responded with “it wasn’t long enough”.

I asked David ‘where next for the community?’ The dream would be to locate to their own building. This would mean they could meet and train more than once a week, as well as helping the wider community for youth, schools and suchlike. But also David hopes to pass on the leadership of the community to some of the guys who are in it, so they can shape it into the future.

Seeing and building

In the book Pioneer Practice I explore four themes in relation to pioneering. Two are seeing and building.

Seeing is about imagining what is possible, opening up ideas, dreaming. In David’s case he saw the possibility of boxing as a way of connecting with the local culture.

Building is then the work of making something happen out of that seeing. In David’s case this was the work of starting the club, raising funds, negotiating with the church, making it all happen.

The other two themes are ‘be you – pioneering goes best when you are able to do it out of who you are and not by trying to be someone else. You can see this a great fit for David.

And lastly ‘change’. The church needs newness and change – and this is a great example of a new community of disciples helping bring change.


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