We Went to a Service at the UK's First and Only 'Chav Church'


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We Went to a Service at the UK's First and Only 'Chav Church'

Darren Edwards is a former car thief and drug dealer who preaches to his congregation in a tracksuit and Adidas sliders.

Darren Edwards in his chav church

Darren Edwards used to steal cars and sell drugs. Now, he spends his time preaching to congregants in the UK's first and only self-identifying "chav church", which he started in 2010 in an effort to get more working class Christians to actually pitch up to the Lord's house to recite some prayers and sing some hymns.

In the 1960s, the majority of British churchgoers were working class. Now, communal worship is a predominantly middle class pursuit. This, says Darren, is because people who dress or talk a certain way are often stigmatised by those from more affluent backgrounds, making them feel uncomfortable in traditional places of worship. His solution? Set up a church on an estate in Lincoln in a bid to spread "chav Christianity" through the UK.


I went to watch one of Darren's sermons – in which he compared the potency of the Lord to that of high-grade cannabis – and afterwards sat down for a chat.

A service in the chav church

VICE: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved with the church.
Darren Edwards: Between seven and 15 I was a bit on the naughty side. I was often caught taking alcohol to school, smoking weed, taking pills. At age 15, I moved out of my nan's house and back to Northampton to live with my mum. All of a sudden I had no boundaries at all, and started hanging around with guys who were car thieves and into all sorts of other crime. It wasn't long until I began selling drugs on our estate. For a while I was the link between adult drug dealers and young drug takers. If you were under 25 on our estate, your best bet for weed or pills would have been to find me.

I moved away from that estate and away from car crime, but kept drinking and taking drugs. Cocaine and crack were my drugs of choice, although I was mostly drinking alcohol. On a bad day I'd get through a crate of Foster's by myself. I was a rubbish dad, a rubbish husband and generally a bit of a rubbish person.

How did you go from that to being a vicar?
I started seeing a bunch of coincidences when people prayed and decided to say a few prayers myself. After a while I was convinced that God was real, because whenever I prayed, coincidences would happen. The most moving part of my path to Jesus was one day when I was convinced that God was there and asked him why I'd had so much happen to me when I was a child. I fell into this weird sleep and had a really vivid vision of loads of my childhood memories, where God would pick me up and dust me off after I was hurt. I realised that God was the closest thing I ever had to a dad and fell in love with my newfound father.


When I first became a Christian I started a new group where we would cook a meal for anyone who was hungry or homeless in our church in Northampton. It was really successful, so we started a second one on a housing estate nearby. Before long, there were lots of people asking if I could take them to church, but in order for them to get to it they'd need to catch two buses there and back. For a single mum with three kids, this was really impractical, so I asked our church if we could take the church to the estate. Instead, my pastor said that I should go to Bible college to learn how to lead a church first.

Your church is on the Moorland Estate in Lincoln. What made you set it up there rather than in Northampton?
In 2010, I asked God where he wanted me to start a new church, and felt him say "Lincoln". I looked at the demographics in Lincoln and saw that Moorland was the most deprived area.

What's the ethos behind the church?
I figure that people attract others who are like them, so if the rest of the churches in the UK are middle class they'll mostly attract middle class people. When someone becomes a Christian, they tend to conform to the dominant culture. This means that working class people go to church and either become middle class or just end up stopping going to church. The philosophy behind our church is that my working class attitude and culture will attract other working class people to it, and then, because the dominant culture is working class, people will feel that they can fit in better and belong easier.


What made you choose the label "chav", which many might see as a pejorative term?
Originally, when describing the sort of church I wanted to start, I'd tell my Bible college friends that I was going to start a working class church, to which many of them would tell me that they work, so they're working class. What I meant by "working class" was the culture and aspirations of working class people. So in order to better distinguish my meaning, I started calling it "chav church", because the word "chav" describes a working class person. One of the bonuses of this was that it put Christians off coming to our church. This means that 90 percent of our church members are "unchurched" – they've never been part of a church before. The culture is very different from a normal church, and the aspirations of the people in our church are very different too.

You've got a degree in theology and wrote your thesis on the effect of the class war on the UK's churches. Can you say a bit about that?
Whether we like to admit it or not, the class war is a very real thing, and it's not just confined to politics. I've experienced it in church more times than I can count. I've been told to dress differently, take my hat off during worship, and my accent has even been ridiculed. Just have a listen to Plan B's song "Ill Manors" and you'll get what I'm saying.

Do you ever get any stick from clergy at other churches?
I've had a little bit of stick about my dress sense and the church that I run, but not from the majority of people. It's just the odd one or two that tend to be more bothered about liturgy than seeing people's lives improved and put right with God.


Rather than just taking donations, you guys give stuff out – is that right?
It started with some cabbages. A lady whose allotment was near ours had grown too many, so she asked me if I wanted them, and I went around the estate giving them away. Then we were given 12 pairs of Nike football boots by Manchester United's youth team, so we gave those away. Then a bloke rang me up and said he had a sports shop that he was closing down and that he needed to get rid of all his stock. Last summer we must've given away £4,000 worth of brand new sports clothes. This year we've given away over 400 boxes of cornflakes and hundreds of bed sets from the Holiday Inn.

Finally, what have you got planned for the chav church?
I'm currently seeking other Christians who are keen on this vision to come alongside us so that we can start new chav churches on estates across the UK. I've been asked to start new ones in Birmingham, Bradford and London, but unfortunately no one has stepped up yet to have a go at it.


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