Two of our vicars have been explaining to other clergy in the Church of England how sport provides a huge opportunity for Christians to connect with our neighbours across Britain's deep social and economic divides.
The Revd Brunel James (Vicar of St Luke’s Cleckheaton) and the Revd Heston Groenewald (Vicar of All Hallows, Hyde Park) presented a 'Diocesan Good Practise' seminar at last week’s Sports Ministry Day at the Archbishop of York’s residence, Bishopthorpe.
Heston says, “In West Yorkshire there is undeniable tension between the white community and the Muslim community; few deep friendships form across the cultural divide. But we have found that sport offers opportunities for a powerful ‘counter narrative’ to the cultural divisions. It is helping us to combat the belief that whites and Asians can’t live together
"We’ve seen some success with football, but it’s principally cricket that regularly brings the communities together on a basis of friendship and equality. Many local teams field a ‘mixed’ group of players selected on merit. Sports clubs (there are 150,000 in the country) are often the most powerful and influential independent organisations within working class communities.
"So what do we do? We’ve tried to create a positive counter narrative through high profile events (sometimes reported in national media eg BBC’s The One Show):-
- We regularly field a clergy team in an annual five a side football tournament in Saville Town, Dewsbury.
- A clergy team took on a Pakistani team in Headingley Stadium to mark the celebration of 70 years of Pakistani independence in 2017.
- A Yorkshire Clergy v Yorkshire Imams cricket game was held two years ago in Dewsbury.
- Last year, a mixed Yorkshire clergy and Yorkshire Imams team played against a mixed Lancashire team including the Bishop of Manchester - at the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield in 2016.
"We want to counteract the argument that religion causes conflict and as ministers we want to be known as trustworthy friends and leaders in the community – and sport is helping us do that.
"It’s very important to support moderate Muslim leaders who are trying to engage their own alienated young people. They need us to prove to their youngsters that the country does want them to be part of a decent British future, that cohesion is a part of that future, and that we already have a lot of common ground – not least the cricket and football ground!
"Whether we are players or family of players or just spectators, we are part of the nation's huge 'sporting community' and this means opportunities to be salt and light and share God's love".