An innovative style of pioneering church setup by Luke Larner, a student on the Church Mission Society pioneer training course, is enabling people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction to transform their lives and build bridges to God. The church mainly caters for former addicts, homeless and those living on the margins, some of whom because of their recent experiences, exhibit a short attention span, illiteracy and struggle with authority, but in spite of these hindrances they are finding faith in the most unlikely of circumstances.
The 'Church for Ragamuffins?' was setup when Luke and his wife noticed that people emerging from a recognised 12 step recovery programme to address their addictions had frequently encountered a strong spiritual experience. However, many were left without a context to answer the questions they now had about faith, God and humanity. Consequently, church leaders were approached to design a template that would help answer people's questions and meet their spiritual need. Today many of the group have become Christians and meet regularly to worship together and deepen their faith.
Luke explained that because "the standard 12 step recovery process for recovering addicts is designed to help people acknowledge that they are powerless over their addiction and that only a higher power can set them free", the link with Christianity is unsurprising. "I believe that God reaches out to people as they go through the recovery process to bring healing and restoration," he said.
Luke explained that the group comprised largely of people recovering from addiction presented challenges but also led to incredible experiences of witnessing lives being transformed. "Not long ago some of our members were begging to feed their drug habit, but now we are seeing people encounter God and lives transformed. We had our first baptism this week, with more on the way."
Getting people into church is the biggest challenge. Luke said: "They have an experience of God, then they turn up at church and get overwhelmed by the language, structure and format of the service. Our members are not used to the long sermons and word based teaching of many traditional churches.
"We have had to work out a style that bridges the gap between real life and church language and culture. We can feel like 'spiritual refugees', living in two worlds but not belonging in either and struggling to fit into the structure of the church after spending more time with people in the margins."
Luke himself is no stranger to life on the margins. As well as his work with the 'Church for Ragamuffins?', he is a biker and a member of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club. He is currently studying Theology, Mission and Ministry as part of the Church Mission Society's Pioneer programme. Luke explained, "I have had my own struggles with drugs and alcohol but I also know the power of God to set me free to pursue my call to 'shine light into dark places'."
While locally Luke hopes that the group in Luton will produce its own leaders who can lead and mentor members themselves, his overall vision is to see similar 'fresh expressions' of church emerging, so that more people recovering from addiction can be helped to build bridges with God and see their lives transformed.
Luke is great example of someone who has sensed Jesus' call and put it into action. To explore your call further, take a look at our FREE.IN.DEED campaign, or jump straight in to our new web app and get thinking about where your call could take you.