By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
In 1988, Furey signed on to become a chaplain for the OC Rescue Mission in Tustin, despite the dramatic cut in pay compared with his former truck-driving gig. He was ordained as a pastor the following year.
He came across a tiny, unknown church in Huntington Beach called His Place in 1996 that was in need of a new head pastor. With more than two decades of expertise in drug rehab, he was equipped to be a fisher of men and women who were already caught on one drug or another. His style of ministry has always been fiery and charismatic in a Jim Carrey style—lots of shouting, arms flailing and the occasional bout of physical comedy. And he could speak directly to those who were rough around the edges. From Furey's first sermon, it was clear the quiet His Place was about to undergo some drastic changes.
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On a recent Friday around 7 p.m., the church is bustling with people. Weekly AA meetings for men and women are a big deal at this church and typically draw large crowds.
Among those in attendance are Jonny Ray Bartel, a co-pastor, and Chris Jones, a pastoral intern, both of whom are band members of a local Christian punk band called the Heroes. Bartel, who is also a bassist for X's country folk offshoot the Knitters and formerly of big-time blues band the Red Devils, is a blond rockabilly type with Chuck Taylors and an impeccably greased pompadour. He sits a few chairs away from guitarist Jones, an enthusiastic, darker-haired version of Mike Ness in a tight gray shirt and gold wristwatch; the ink on his knuckles spell out "SICK" on one hand, "LIFE" on the other. He has adapted the meaning of SICK to "Soldier In Christ's Kingdom."
His Place migrated to Westminster in April 2012, as the number of followers ballooned to around 500, vastly outgrowing the tiny, old facility in Huntington Beach. Thanks to in-house fund-raising, philanthropy and financial help from the international fellowship Assemblies of God, they were able to turn the drab new compound into a refurbished 27,000-square-foot space that suits their needs. Today, most of the ministries are run by rehabilitated worshippers—including a good number of local musicians—who've had their lives turned around by faith.
Sitting in the circle of couples and singles with Furey at the center of the large, plain room, Bartel and Jones take turns sharing stories about how this church really helped them in their struggles with organized religion, not to mention their commitment to stay clean from heroin, their shared former deadly substance of choice. Since joining the church, Jones says, he did relapse after being clean for eight years, but he fought back, and on Jan. 27, he'll celebrate one new year of sobriety. A lot of that is thanks to Furey, whom Jones says stuck by him when the guitarist was terribly sick and fighting hard to kick his habit again.
"He even let me stay at his house one weekend," Jones says, quipping, "probably because his wife was on vacation! But he saved me, man. And he's rolled up his sleeves and ministered to me through hard times."
Jones and Bartel are no strangers to the alternative-church scene—both worked with another local church in Huntington Beach before moving to His Place. They agree it was Furey's straight talk and humility about his past that drew them in. Bartel jokingly calls Furey the Stevie Ray Vaughan of Preachers.
"There's nobody better, and he doesn't act like he's bitchen. Most really good guitar players act like jerks, but Stevie Ray was always super-sweet and super-cool and helpful," Bartel says. "One thing I like about the way Joe preaches is that he shares his limitations and his sins and he's super-transparent, whereas a lot of pastors are really afraid to really expose their human side. . . . [Furey is] very rare."
For Matt Maynard, a stocky, tattooed former white-power thug from Huntington Beach who went into AA dried out and sick, with chiseled teeth and an ankle bracelet, this was the first place that gave him a kind of unconditional acceptance. Of course, getting clean still didn't lead to an easy road—in the several years he has been at His Place, Maynard has gotten married and found employment, but also experienced the death of a best friend and the suicide of his sister. Those last two events might've caused him to go on a week-long bender, but his sense of loyalty to Furey and the people there kept him level-headed. Or, as he puts it, "a nerd with a paint job."
He explains, "You can put this paint job on any one of these guys in here, and you ain't gonna know the difference. We're all still the same peeps."
Mike Worley, one of His Place's enthusiastic prospects, is part of the men's group ministry, Men Accountable to Christ (MAC). Sitting next to his colleague Jeff Soumokil, Worley says his own past as a guy in the punk-rock scene and the attitude of those who've been healed through his church are the best ways to convert people who are masters of putting up emotional walls just by their appearance.