A sporting way to win hearts and minds
The 24 January 1872 is the anniversary of the death of the Revd William Webb Ellis, who as a school boy is credited with the formation of Rugby Union. Later in life he became an evangelical priest and served at St George’s Albermarle Street and then St Clement Danes, on the Strand.
Here the Revd Dave Maclure, a Hounslow Deanery Pioneer Curate, writes a full round up of his church’s events during the Rugby World Cup, in the autumn of 2015. Dave gives us all some great ideas of what churches can do during sporting events in 2016, such as the upcoming 6 Nations Rugby tournament, starting in February, or the UEFA European Football cup in June 2016, and maybe the Brazilian Olympics and Paralympics in August. Perhaps use them for smaller one-off events such as the University Boat Race or the NFL games at Wembley in October. Apply these events to any sporting fixtures and see the church come alive with all sport lovers in your parish.
“Disappointment for England fans, but a fantastic tournament in every other respect!”
That was how many Rugby fans summed up The Rugby World Cup which ran from mid-September to the end of October. The third largest global sporting event after the Olympics and football World Cup, the Rugby World Cup attracted thousands of visitors from the 20 competing nations to venues across England and Wales.
With many major fixtures at Twickenham, including the pulsating final between the Aussies and the All Blacks, much of West London was gripped by Rugby fever. If you weren’t in the stadium then there were many other ways to get swept up in the excitement through the fan parks, pubs, local rugby clubs, schools and even churches.
In what ways, then, did churches around Twickenham engage with the Rugby World Cup? Here are a few highlights.
On the 17 September, on the evening before the tournament started, All Hallows, Twickenham – the parish church of Twickenham stadium – hosted an opening service. Representatives from the RFU, local council and surrounding churches and schools took part in the service in which the Bishop of Stepney preached. Big screens showed video of Christian international rugby players giving testimonies. A delegation of Japanese Christians was also present, on a fact-finding trip before Tokyo hosts the next World Cup in 2019.
Beyond this, many churches ran events in their parishes – from festivals and fun days to quiz nights and hosting big screen viewing parties. Many church members were personally involved in other ways such as in official hospitality or stewarding roles at the stadium. Engage 2015, a Christian charity with expertise of mobilising churches towards mission at major sporting events provided speakers, resources, a social media presence and plenty of ideas for churches to get stuck in on the ground.
At St John’s and St Mary’s, Isleworth, the parish where I am a curate, we picked up quite a bit of footfall on match-days as fans made their way to Twickenham. We opened up our church building at St Mary’s, Worton Road, on several match-days and offered a refreshments and toilets pit stop for fans as they arrived in the area. Kids at our Flightpath afternoon service designed a colourful welcome banner. Opening up the church building proved a useful way to connect and chat with fans as well as curious local residents who wanted to know what was going on.
One event particularly stands out, however. On 19 October, we booked out a local curry house and invited men from the church and their mates for an evening of good food and conversation. The star attraction on the night was special guest Dan Leo, a committed Christian and an ex-Samoan international Rugby player. At 6’5, Dan is a commanding presence on the pitch and off it, and he spoke insightfully about his faith and answered questions on the current state of the game.
The evening was arranged with the help of Engage 2015, and was a fantastic occasion for having a good time, cementing friendships among men connected with the church while helping us all reflect on how faith and sport intersect.
The whole six weeks was a whole lot of fun and now we need to find a way to get to the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo in 2019.