Sandwiched between the glass-fronted Science and Media Museum and the Alhambra Theatre, you’d be forgiven for missing Fountains Church among Bradford’s better-known landmarks. But on Thursday nights, the Church of England venue fills Glydegate Square with the sounds of spandex-clad wrestlers being slammed onto canvas and cheers of delight from those assembled in the most unlikely of venues for a grapple. The venue has been combining baptisms and body slams for 12 months, with GT Ministries aiming to provide direction and purpose for young people in the city – whatever their beliefs – who may have lost their way for a variety of reasons. The BBC’s We Are England film-makers went to meet them.
Dressed in a “Pray Eat Wrestle Repeat” T-shirt, Gareth “Angel” Thompson says he opened his wrestling ministry to help those who may have been forced to navigate difficult childhoods and volatile family situations. “You look at the word ‘wrestling’ – they are wrestling with their demons, insecurities, their past, their circumstances,” says the 35-year-old, who describes himself as a Christian, father, husband and pro wrestler. The father-of-two hopes the sport and its setting can help to save young people, much like they saved him as a child.
“The two things that helped me get my life back on track are wrestling and the church,” he says. “The driving force behind the training school is sharing my story and using my past to help others – maybe someone who comes in the door hears something, that’s the start of their journey.”
The low-cost training nights attract about 15 people per session, with a fundraiser successfully hitting a £3,000 target for the church to buy a wrestling ring.
Church leader Linda Maslen, who helped to carry out six adult baptisms during a recent wrestling event at the venue, says: “I met Gareth three years ago, he said ‘this may sound crazy but I’m a pro wrestler, I think we could use this’. “That ultimately led to us buying a wrestling ring and we thought there actually could be an emerging worshipping community coming out of this.”
According to the Church of England, around 7,000 adult baptisms take place a year. Gareth says: “This idea of doing a wrestling church is not beyond reality, church can be whatever you need it to be to fit the audience.
“Jesus didn’t set out a model saying church needs to be X, Y, Z.”https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leeds-62825512