In an arena full of ego and machismo, the Rev David Smith, rector of Holy Trinitv, Dulwich Hill cuts a different figure. On August 24 he calmly strapped on his gloves to fight Marcus Lennon for the New South Wales Super-Welterweight Championship at the Parramatta Masonic Club without the usual bravado.
Known as ‘Fighting Father’ Dave in the ring, he did not lose sight of his main goal. Even before the fight he said it would he his last. “I only fought for the title because I thought it would help my church’s youth centre,” he said.
The media attention has certainly gained him respect with local young people. A few years ago his exploits in the ring drew the attention of’ TV program Wonder World
“That appearance produced a dramatic response from the local kids because we were suddenly a cool place to be. We went from 20 kids a day to 100.”
He hopes attention generated by his latest exploits will help gain business sponsorship for his community centre where he conducts martial arts classes. The centre also includes a weights gym, a boxing ring and even a drop-in centre with pay TV. A new strategy connects the gospel to the fitness market, by offering clients physical training with Christianity Explained or Alpha course included in their program.
“We rely on fundraising,” he said “The grants we get only patch up the damage. Vandalism became rampant last year.”
Yet Mr Smith understands that some people may not want to be involved, put off by concerns the sport promotes violence and damages health.
“You’ve got to be realistic about the young guys you’re dealing with. They are at risk of suicide, involved in crime and drugs, so they may not be alive in six months. This kind of ministry works best with those who are really on the edge, and to talk about long term health issues shows how out of touch some people really are. Look at the alternatives – they’re having knife fights up the street.” Mr Smith said that other churches prefer to work with younger children while many community groups have folded.
“There are no centres of any kind around here. Last year they finally opened up an oval after 30 years of planning. In terms of where all the crime and suicide os happening, it is among young males and no other group is working with them.”
[Even without the bright boxing shorts Dave Gurleyen would look like a fighter. Barrel chested he stands out beside the other martial arts students. That’s not suprising. Mr Gur!eyen is a 3rd dan black belt, Thai boxing instructor and winner of the Australian lightweight title last year.
“I come here to learn new skills from Father Dave. Then I can take them and show them to my students at Five Dock.” Dave Gurleyen’s comments underlie the standing Mr Smith has in the fight community. His gym is frequented by some of the biggest names in the sport: world kickboxing champion, Alex Tui, even comes to Mr Smith’s church.
Dave Gurleyen may have declined a similar offer to visit church, but the humble attitude of the minister impressed the boxer enough to train at the gym and accept a word of prayer before the session began. “I am always happy to help the church,” he said. “Father Dave does a lot of good work for the kids of the area. There is nothing positive to do around here so what Father Dave does is really needed. I know that because I grew up nearby in Marrickville. All my friends either ended up as fighters or in jail.”]