Get out of the pews and on to the pitch

Dec 22, 2017 by

by Philip North, Church Times:

WHY was there no revolution in 18th- and 19th-century England when almost everyone else was having one? The sports historian Tony Collins believes that the answer was: cricket.

On the pitch, rich and poor met on equal terms: the rural peasant would be bowling at the aristocrat; the parson would be batting with the farrier. How can you guillotine some­one if, two days before, you were putting on 50 runs in a ninth-wicket partnership? Sport was the social lev­el­ler. It became a place to form re­­lation­ships that crossed class bound­aries, and so a place where social justice could be built.

What was true in the 18th century is the same today. We live in an age of incredible social stratification and inequality, where people too often live parallel lives. I can think of only a few places where rich and poor meet on equal terms, among them the church and the sports field. So, if we are serious about sharing in the work of Jesus, who came to proclaim good news to the poor, then sports min­istry is vital.

It is an odd phenomenon that, from time to time, the Church seems to forget for a while her call to put the poor first. In his report, So Yesterday, of 2010, when he was on sabbatical from his post as Dean of Rochester, the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, suggests that the triumph of the growth agenda is one reason why this is one of those times.

If we are passionate about making new disciples, there is a real danger that we prioritise the low-hanging fruit and leave to one side the areas where growth is hardest to achieve — especially areas of deprivation.

Yet, if we are serious about growth, we need to put the poor first, not last. Why? Because that is what Jesus did. He transformed the world from its edges, and in the company of the voiceless and forgotten.

And so, for us, we will renew the Church not from the places of wealth and power, but from the margins, the outer estates, the forgotten inner cities, from the poor and the addicted and the lonely, from the places where life is hardest. When you proclaim good news to the poor, that is when every­one wakes up and listens.

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