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/ 4 March 2014

Dioceses build on Olympic success

A gathering of church representatives from around the country have set out plans for a sports conference to be held in a number of dioceses, where sports advisers will link churches with local sporting opportunities.

The national event was convened by the Bishops of Barking and Stepney, in Chelmsford and London respectively – the host dioceses for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games – in partnership with Christians in Sport.

Churches were successful in engaging with the London 2012 Games in all the places where they took place and can continue to build on this Olympic legacy and use sport to serve their local communities and increase their witness across the country as a whole.

15.5 million adults play sport at least once a week but many more people and families whose health and wellbeing could benefit from sport and exercise lack the opportunities or the incentive to take up sport. Both London 2012 dioceses are focusing on the issue and the Diocese of London has identified sport as a key area of engagement as part of its Capital Vision 2020 for serving London in ways that are Confident, Compassionate and Creative.

Representatives from 31 dioceses around the country gathered at Loughborough University to consult on how local churches can get involved with sport and to share successful sporting initiatives from their own areas. The team behind the symposium will now work on drawing together the information to design long term recommendations on a Church of England approach to sport.

Two members of the team were key in bringing the idea of the event to fruition. Alan Comfort, former professional footballer, is now Vicar at St John’s Walthamstow in Chelmsford Diocese and Chaplain to Leyton Orient Football Club. Pete Nicholas is a former professional rugby player and now Minister at the Inspire Church in London. Both Alan and Pete have successfully used sport as a way to engage with local communities through activities which local people themselves prioritise and enjoy.

During the symposium, Pete and Alan led workshops on how other local churches can follow this example, outlining how many churches have space for some kind of sporting activity or can use a local park or field.

There were discussions on partnering with the 150,000 sports clubs in the UK and the opportunities offered by the major national sporting events coming up in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Speakers such as Lisa O’Keefe, Director of Insight at Sport England, also attended to discuss how local churches can think strategically about the potential of sport and partner with Sport England and similar organisations.

Many churches in and around London were inspired by the Olympics to serve their communities through sport. Alan Comfort’s church at St John’s Walthamstow hosted a weekly football club for children where they got the chance to play with professional footballer Paul-Jose M’Poku.

In the Diocese of London, Inspire Church in Old Street, where Pete Nicholas serves, has employed a community sports worker to facilitate sporting activities with the local primary school, and is about to start a ‘Father’s football’ programme for local dads and their children.

Initiatives like this are a key part of the work being led by the Bishop of Stepney to develop Diocese of London churches’ engagement with sport as part of Capital Vision 2020.

The Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney and sponsor of the sports strand of the Diocese of London’s Capital Vision 2020 strategy, commented:

"The reach of the Church of England extends across every single community in the country, making it uniquely placed to offer something distinctive to the sporting landscape in the UK.

"Sport can contribute so much to flourishing communities in the key areas of education and health – sectors of our economy that churches have traditionally engaged with well. We have the networks, we have the resources, and after this conference it’s clear that we have the political will, the vision, and the motivation to engage with the world of sport in a more intentional way; and that is enormously exciting."

The Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd David Hawkins, who is responsible for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, said:

"We saw lots of churches engaging with the 2012 Games in all the parts of the country where the Games took place. The Church of England is now building on that success across the country as a whole."

Keith Proctor, Managing Director of Christians in Sport, said:

"It is exciting to see the Church of England working towards a future in which churches throughout the country are fully engaged with their sports communities."

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