A new Christian community in Leeds for addicts, ex-offenders and the homeless has now got its own mission priest.
The Revd Jon Swales, who was commissioned by Bishop Paul Slater on Sunday, set up the Lighthouse Network (with others) 18 months ago when he was a curate at St George’s. He says, “I wanted to complement the work of St George’s Crypt (which looks after the practical needs of the homeless) by creating church for this unique community”.
Since then, Lighthouse has seen amazing growth. They have had over 20 baptisms in the last year and they’re now hoping to plant other communities in the city - starting in Hyde Park. Jon says, “We’re not trying to compromise the local Anglican church but rather to come alongside them and help them reach out to the most broken.
“Many of the people we see don’t feel comfortable in a regular church service, so we have a separate Sunday gathering, to which around 60 men and women come, and a mid-week drop-in and bible study. We’ve built a safe community where people who have little reason to trust others have established firm friendships.”
But it’s costly work for all those involved. Jon adds, “Walking alongside people with multiple and complex needs can be very difficult. It’s been particularly tough recently because we’ve had a number of addiction-related deaths and suicides. But every week we hear stories of dramatically changed lives (left), and people finding new life and acceptance.”
The team, which includes Roger Quick (Crypt Chaplain), Millie Holmes (Lighthouse Pioneer Pastor) and Jimmy Laurence (ordinand) doesn’t always wait for people to come to them. Jon says, “We spend time on the streets and in the parks looking for the most broken; letting them know that there is hope in Jesus and a community waiting for them. We get to pray for people in prison, in court, the tough pubs in Leeds and with girls working in the sex industry. And we have good relationships with other agencies such as the police, hospitals and prisons.”
The post of Mission Priest is being funded by St George’s Church, St George’s Crypt and the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. Jon says, “It’s exciting to see a new diocese that’s prepared to invest in a ministry that, frankly, is never going to be able to pay its parish share.”
Other churches can help resource Lighthouse through financial giving or volunteering. Jon says, “We also love people to visit – we know that visitors find it really encouraging to hear people’s testimonies.
"And I’d really appreciate being invited to churches to talk about the work as well.”
You can contact Jon at jon.swales [at] stgeorgesleeds.org.uk