Howard Coley is the reverend of the Elim Family Fellowship Pentecostal Church in Benalmádena Costa - a branch of Elim España. However he is not the stereotypical preaching pastor. The reverend is not from a religious background, aside from the fact that his mother played the organ in the local church. His first passion in life was music and it would be many years before he would be ordained and begin preaching the gospel.
Born in Leicester in 1952, Howard made his living as a musician, playing drums in numerous bands during the late 1960s, although he later switched to guitar. His repertoire included rock, blue grass, pop and folk music and he enjoyed the on-the-road lifestyle of a professional musician.
Howard has shared a dressing room with AC/DC, toured Ireland with 70's folk heroes, Lindisfarne, and supported celebrated artistes like The Drifters and The Sullivan Brothers.
He became popular on the cabaret scene during the 1980s, performing regular gigs in holiday camps and hotels around the UK, but following his marriage, and the birth of his three children, he embarked on a solo career using the name of Howard King.
In order to spend more time with his family, he made a complete break from the UK and headed to Spain in 1990. At this time he had little faith in the cloth, even though his wife was a believer. “I was never aware that the Jesus was there; if someone had told me 15 years ago that I would be a reverend I would have thought they were absolutely crazy,” Howard explains to SUR in English.
He began to make a living performing in clubs along the Costa del Sol, although it was his wife's decision to attend a church in Mijas that began his interest in religion. Howard accompanied his wife to weekly services and he began to interpret what the bible was saying, believing that it might explain what is happening today, and more to the point, what is coming in the future.
“Slowly, I thought this is an inspiring book and I got to the point of understanding that if this God was real, I knew which side I should be on, although I still couldn't see there was a spiritual world, ” Howard says with sincerity.
He then had an experience in Coín that convinced him that the spiritual world was real, and from then on, his life began to change. He stopped playing music for two years, believing he shouldn't be doing “this kind of stuff”. He spent time attending bible school and church, leading some of his fellow musicians to believe he had joined a religious sect in the mountains.
Howard established the Pentecostal church in Benalmádena in 2003. Initially meeting in the Hotel Triton, ministering to the English-speaking community, the fellowship now has a building to meet in each Sunday and a place for community activities midweek.
However, Howard realised that he needed to work to support his family and, as music was a sure way of making a living, he took up his career once again. It was around this time that he received the pseudonym of the 'Rockin' Rev', a name he most certainly lives up to.
It was only natural that Howard would use his musical talents during his services and today music is a major part of proceedings. His son and two daughters are active in the church and they are also members of the Elim Praise Band, the church's resident group fronted by the Rockin' Rev.
“Our music is contemporary; we have a full band so we have a fairly rocky sound and our services are lively. We also perform the more familiar style of gospel and traditional hymns,” the reverend says.
The younger generation are attracted by the contemporary style of the meetings, but as Howard points out, “it isn't just a party or a rock concert”, they are spreading the word of God.
The Rockin' Rev is a man whose love of music is equalled by his passion for spreading the gospel, although he is adamant that the Elim Foundation does not exist to convert, simply to offer direction to those who seek it.
“It is not my job to convince anyone, but if they chose the gospel, then I am here to guide them and offer assistance.”
It was because of a sick friend that Howard would eventually find his faith. The friend would visit a woman called Chicken Lil, a British expat who claimed to be a witch. Sick people would go to her in order to be spiritually healed. It was on an occasion when Howard and his wife had accompanied the friend to a session that he was convinced that something spiritual happened, although he could not pinpoint what it was.
“Something real happened and I realised that the spiritual world exists and I knew I needed to find my way to Jesus. It's like saying: I know there is a bus from here to Malaga, but if I don't get on it I'm not going to get there.”