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Former heroin addict teaches course for recovering addicts at Bolton church plant

11 May 2018

‘I was injecting up to four times a day; my life was chaotic’


Sean Kelly, a former heroin addict who now helps others who are struggling with addiction and past trauma

Sean Kelly, a former heroin addict who now helps others who are struggling with addiction and past trauma

A CHURCH plant in Bolton has started a new course to help people to overcome addiction, after it supported the recovery of a former heroin addict who found faith within its walls.

The 12-week course, Celebrating Recovery, was launched last month by the Revd Ben Woodfield, an assistant curate at St Paul’s, Asley Bridge, who planted Oldhams Church in 2016, to serve a new linked community. The course, church activities, and Sunday service are held in the Barlow Park Youth Centre, on the Oldhams estate.

One of the course leaders is Sean Kelly, who is 42, grew up on the estate, and came to Oldhams Church with his wife, Kelly, and children at about Christmas 2016, to take part in Messy Church activities there. He was recovering from heroin addiction at that time.

PHIL TAYLORMr Kelly still has a tattoo on his arm, a remnant of his past, of a priest smoking cannabis

“I was injecting myself up to four times a day; my life was chaotic and messy,” he said on Wednesday. “I landed at church one day with the kids, and just felt at ease there. I got on with the people. The kids enjoyed it, dragged me along a bit more, and I got myself into treatment after that.”

Mr Kelly’s parents divorced when he was five, and his father developed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. “My dad had a major breakdown when I was about eight. Things were ropey at home. He was violent, and self-medicating with cannabis and alcohol.”

Mr Kelly later suffered physical and sexual abuse by another man. He left home, and was taken into care at the age of 12, when he began drinking and smoking cannabis. He lived between children’s homes in Bolton before spending his remaining teenage years with a foster carer on the Oldhams estate.

Mr Kelly began taking heroin at the age of 18, and served prison sentences for theft in his twenties. “I fell out of care straight into heavy drugs,” he said.

Entering Oldhams Church was the start of his recovery: “All I can put it down to is Jesus. I [had] been in hard addiction for more than 20 years, been through recovery programmes and treatment services umpteen times, but the only difference I can think of is Jesus.”

He started treatment again in February 2016, while attending an “enlightening” Alpha course with Mr Woodfield.

“It was part-way through that Alpha course that I knew that Jesus loved me. I began to pray for the guy who abused me. I have not looked back. My life has changed immeasurably: you couldn’t imagine the difference.”

Mr Kelly is now free of addiction. He has been using his experience to help others in the community who are struggling with addiction and past trauma.

The course, which has been running for three weeks, is centred on the Beatitudes. Ten people are currently attending. “It is promising for the length of time we have been running. Small beginnings, but it is looking good,” Mr Kelly said.

PHIL TAYLORThe Revd Ben Woodfield (front right) with the community of Oldhams Church

Mr Woodfield, who has been ministering on the estate for four years, said on Wednesday: “It is a typical out-of-town, forgotten estate, among the five per cent most deprived in the country. There is a lot of addiction.

“[Sean’s] is a true Christian miracle story. These miracles don’t happen often, and normally the discipleship, let alone recovery, is a long walk — years — but, for Sean, it is a true miracle. He is clean. He is the human being that God always decided him to be. The ripple effect of his life on the estate is also quite significant. People come along because of his story.”

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