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The former Satanist, heroin addict and punk musician training to be a priest in Wales

Covered in tattoos with pierced ears and a shaved head, George Bearwood could not look less like a typical vicar.

George, a former Satanist, heroin addict and punk musician, who found God “after looking in all the wrong places” is training for the priesthood with the Church in Wales.

Talking in a soft voice in the chapel at St Padarn’s, Llandaff, the training venue for the Church in Wales, 56-year-old George explains his past experiences and appearance make him more approachable for many living on the edge.

He hopes to work with prisoners, addicts and the homeless among others - people who might shy away from the traditional vicar in a dog collar.

The way I look is useful in many senses.

I can talk to people who might be mistrustful, because I am more like them - people with alcohol and drug issues and people on the edges of society. I have a lot of friends in the music business and in urban tribes because that’s my background.

“It’s very important if the church is going to appeal to a secular culture. You have to represent the people you want to include.

– George Bearwood

Getting into the emerging 1970s punk scene while he was still at school in the English west Midlands, George was touring in bands by the age of 15 and was taking drugs from the age of 13.

In the early 1990s he played keyboards and was second singer for the band, Judda.

For nine years in the 1980s and early 1990s George worked for American television network Discovery Channel in the USA and it was through the music scene that he met Satanists and joined their cults.

I am a former Satanist, for me being a Satanist was more a way of being who you are, it’s selfish but freeing. I got into it through music. People get the wrong idea about Satanists and think they hate God and have upside down crosses, but the reality is not that. It is about anarchism and Paganism.

I joined when I was 15 but renounced it all when I became an atheist at the age of 30.

– George Bearwood

Turning 30 also marked the year George stopped taking drugs. A heroin user for 10 years he came off it after an accidental overdose.

For the next nine years George worked in the music industry and as a DJ in clubs in London and Italy. Then one day, out of the blue, a voice urged him “go to church”.

“I was in the studio when I heard a voice in my head saying “go to church” I ignored it, but it kept happening. I’d hear it in my head, like a thought, but it was not something I would think, so I tried to ignore it.”

Six months later stuck in a traffic jam in central London beside an Anglican church George spotted a sign saying there was an organ recital, so parked and went in.

George, then 30, “covered with tattoos with a shaved head” spoke to the vicar and returned over the next few days, eventually telling him “I think I want to be a priest.”

It wasn’t going to be a quick process.

George started attending church regularly, was baptised and gave up his music industry job to work as a verger.

Five years later in 2008 he got through the selection process to train as a vicar with the Church in Wales at St Padarn’s in Llandaff but dropped out feeling it wasn’t for him. Four years later he re-applied and was accepted back to start again.

Now finishing his training George also met his wife Rev Alexier Mayes, vicar of St Mark’s and St David’s in Connah’s Quay, on the course. She is a fellow music lover and also has tattoos. The couple have been together 10 years and married in 2018 in front of hundreds of guests at St Asaph Cathedral.

The couple may be parted by work after George is ordained, but have accepted that he will be sent where is he needed most, and that’s most likely to be a large city.

The church is more open and accepting now of people from different backgrounds. It’s very important if they are going to appeal to a secular culture. You have to represent the people you want to include.

– George Bearwood

Although he doesn’t play in a band anymore George still plays the drums and keyboards and hosts the Badlands Rock n’ Roll and Urban Hymns shows with his wife on community station, Radio Deeside.

He has had some of his tattoos removed, including a skull and crossbones and one with a Satanic emblem on his head, but says those that remain reflect his faith, his journey and who he is.

His tattoos include symbols of The Lamb of God and the Body of Christ on his hands along with the words “tolle crucem tuam” - Latin for “take up your cross”.

“I feel I was looking for God in all the wrong places. Even when I was involved in the occult or taking drugs I was trying to find God and where I needed to be.”