Leeds homeless and addicts get their own church

02 October 2015

DIOCESE OF WEST YORKSHIRE AND THE DALES

Reaching out: the Revd John Swales is commissioned by Bishop Paul Slater

Reaching out: the Revd John Swales is commissioned by Bishop Paul Slater

A PRIEST who set up a community for homeless people, ex-offenders, and addicts, in Leeds, has been made a mission priest of the newly created church.

The Revd Jon Swales set up the Lighthouse Network 18 months ago to help those who do not feel comfortable attending regular church services.

Mr Swales, who was an assistant curate at St George’s, Leeds, was commissioned by the Bishop of Richmond, the Rt Revd Paul Slater, last month. The post is being funded by the diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales, St George’s, and the charity St George’s Crypt.

"Jesus reached out to those broken and on the margins. The Crypt is a great heritage we’ve been able to engage with," Mr Swale said.

Every Sunday, about 60 people gather at the Lighthouse Network, on Great George Street, for an open service. There is also a midweek drop-in, and Bible study. "We often pause and ask people to share their prayers. Sometimes, we’ll be praying for 15 minutes, as people pray that they’ll get off heroin, or for their children in care. There is real honesty here."

In the past month, however, Mr Swale has held three funeral services for members of the community who took their own lives, or who died of drug-related complications. "Behind all of the struggles with money or emotion is a story of trauma: people have been through the worst almost from birth."

Mr Swales, who is married and has four children, said that his previous experience as a secondary-school teacher helped him in dealing with those on the "tougher side" of town. "When I became a ‘vicar’, I wondered whether it would be tea on the lawn, playing a bit of croquet; but I really felt the Lord saying the Church should be less like a cruise ship and more like a rescue ship.

"I have tried to target those who are bruised and battered by life, and show them the love of Jesus. There is a cost to my family; it is a big challenge, but also a huge privilege."

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