As a nightclub chaplain in Bournemouth, Michael French has always loved dance music and the club scene. He explains the many strands to his work in one of the UK's most popular clubbing areas.
A main focus of the work is to provide a listening ear and a helping hand to those in the club scene. We also have people going out on the streets to show kindness and love to the clubbers, and anyone else who may need some support.
The chaplaincy itself, part of the Night Outreach Work ecumenical charity set up here 10 years ago, is about helping people to explore faith and responding to needs. As part of that, we organise something every two months called Church for the Night which is an event at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, which runs from late evening to 4am.
The idea is not to 'pounce' on people when they walk through the door but to offer a free café art exhibition, and use projections, smoke machines, light ambient dance music, and a chilled out euphoric, atmosphere to help whoever comes in to find space with God.
Girls will often arrive in their stilettos and hot pants, kneel down at the front and cry, pray, hug their friends and then walk out without saying anything, but they’ve had some sort of encounter with God which is just incredible.
A new website, Spaces, is now offering us a wonderful opportunity to highlight all the Christian work that's going on in Bournemouth. There will also be an online calendar to help in the development of ongoing programmes.
I originally worked in children's services as a youth and community worker, then I spent three months in Ibiza with 24:7 Prayer – meeting up with others who have a similar love for club culture and God meant that everything changed.
I've been into dance music and dj-ing since I was 17, and involved in the club scene for the past 10. Lots of people think of the club scene as being completely bad but I would say there's a huge amount of life there; the music is amazing and the amount of creativity in terms of multimedia, people's expression of dance and the community life is incredible.
What we do in Nightclub Outreach Work is express our life in God in a different way. A lot of us have previously been members of various churches but this work is more about community – we just want to live life together, eat together, pray together, and get involved in social action with Worship, Word, and Witness.
It's going back to the roots of Christianity, having life and sharing life together – there is a lot of fear around about being controlled. That's why most people have rejected traditional church so we try to create environments where people can come together and pray without that sort of pressure. Our values are based on humility, servanthood, and accountability through the concept of D (discipleship) groups – these are three people that we meet with regularly and keep accountable to them.
All of this encourages me but I think it's not without opposition as well – personal struggles and issues are always there. In saying that, it's about actually learning from each other because I often find that my faith is strengthened by meeting with those who have an experience of spirituality in their own way but don't know where to place it.
Some of the things that happen are quite bizarre. A guy working on the door at a club in Boscombe jeered at me that I looked like a famous porn star called Ron Jeremy. All of his mates laughed, I did too (with slight embarrassment). I then got a call and had to head back to my car to collect a ticket for someone. On the way I realised I had a 'Jesus Loves Porn Stars' Bible in my car and recalled there was a story about Ron Jeremy inside.
As I went back into the club, I handed the Bible to the door man with my business card in the page that said 'Jesus Loves Ron Jeremy'. The guy was astounded, saying, 'What are the chances of that?' He told me he would read the Bible and let me in anytime for free. Result!
We are created to create; we are creative beings and looking at those things which give you passion and life are those things which I would encourage people to start. I wouldn't say it was a good idea for people to start club ministry if they're not into clubbing or dance music, for instance.
We don't discourage people from going to traditional churches. If people want to find God there then we'll take them along but the fact is that we view ourselves as church. We love God and, as people meet with us – whether it's in a nightclub, out and about, or in someone's home; God is in the club, God is in the home, God is in the streets, God is everywhere.
People tend to have a certain image of clubbers but I encounter all sorts of people on the club scene, from those in their late teens to their 50s.
We go to a dance class with teenagers and we are also linked with Christian DJs from Clean Time Sound System who work with a bunch of recovering drug and alcohol addicts. That's what I love about this job: you come across different classes, different races, different ages, different everything – it’s brilliant.