A boxing club that's helping people keep fit and meet God

The Rev David Harrigan leads The Good Shepherd Boxing Community.(Photo: Jonny Baker/CMS)

A boxing club with humble beginnings in an Essex church has been commissioned as a new worshipping community by the Diocese of Chelmsford. 

The commissioning of The Good Shepherd Boxing Community in Romford follows the unveiling of ambitious plans earlier this year by the diocese to establish 101 worshipping communities across Essex and East London over the next 10 years. 

It is one of the first in what the diocese hopes will be a wave of new alternative communities reaching out to members of the community who may never attend a traditional church service. 

The boxing club is the brain child of Dave Harrigan, an ordained pioneer minister studying for a BA in Church Mission Society's pioneer mission leadership programme. 

When it first started at the Church of the Good Shepherd four years ago, just a handful of people turned up to the first few sessions, but word quickly spread and the membership grew. 

It didn't just grow in size; it grew spiritually too, as the members formed friendships and started to explore prayer and worship together. 

"Through prayer and friendships something changed. People we didn't know started coming, they were sharing life and interests, inspiring and encouraging one another," said Harrigan. 

"We went from being a Thursday boxing session to a community of people who look out for each other."

The boxing club, which has just been commissioned as a worshipping community by the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, has evolved into a hub where members of the local community can get fit and have fun, but also encounter God. 

For many of the people coming along, it's the first time they've ever encountered God. 

"We have explored many different styles of worship from curry on Maundy Thursday to evening prayer inside the boxing ring. The group extends beyond boxing to living and sharing and conversations about faith and life," Harrigan said. 

Jon Wood hadn't boxed for 15 years when he started coming along.  He appreciates the spiritual aspect of the club. 

"There's a diverse group of people that come these sessions, but unlike any other gym there's a spiritual side. Whether or not you're a believer the philosophical debate and spiritual exploration add a wonderful dimension to the experience," he said. 

Connor Boot, 22, said: "The first time I came it was overwhelming but for sure it's made me more interested in Christianity and want to get more involved. It's way more than just a boxing club. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Another member, Eden Black, said the club had a welcoming environment and cared about the physical and spiritual wellbeing of those coming along. 

"Each class is underpinned by the church's values and isn't preachy at all," he said.

"In a world where being busy has reduced our ability to focus on what should be important in life, this class is a reminder that taking time out to nourish the body and soul can do wonders."