To the familiar tones of Michael Buffer’s iconic ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ introduction and Stormzy soundtrack, five young boxers put down their gloves and rather than knock out their opponents, laid down and surrendered their lives to Jesus.
Flanked by friends and families, the boxers made their way into the ring and testified to the difference that faith had made in their lives. “I feel like a clean person and the worries are off my shoulders,” one said.
All five boxers are members of The Good Shepherd Boxing Community, based in Romford at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a mission outreach conceived by Dave Harrigan, an ordained pioneer minister and graduate of Church Mission Society’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training programme, which is now in its tenth year.
Launched in 2015, the boxing club has now become a hub for people in the local community to learn to box and get fit, as well as a place where they can have fun, build relationships and encounter God, many for the first time.
Dave explained that the idea to be baptised came from the boxers themselves, following a meal out in a local Indian restaurant.
Dave and the team at Good Shepherd decided that in order to put the participants at ease, they would organise the church like a boxing ring and place the baptism pool in the middle of the church with seating circling the ring. Friends and family were encouraged to take part by offering their own prayers and expressing their thanks to God.
After the service, which took place on Thursday 27 February, the boxers shared the impact the ceremony had made. One said, “It was like an out of body experience…I saw myself going under but there was so much weight lifted off my shoulders when I came up.” Another said: “This journey has re-lit the fire and belief that was always there, and with the help of the other guys, I discovered that it was I that was lost. Being a part of this community has made me want to be a better person.”
Dave Harrigan concluded: “This baptism is a fulfilment of our vision for pioneer ministry and is exciting proof that pioneer projects such as the Good Shepherd Boxing Community are an effective way of being ‘church’ for people who live outside the traditional bounds of the regular church and who wouldn’t normally attend a Sunday service.”