Update: Not for the last time, a post elsewhere is relevant: This time it is by Ian Paul, based in England, and reflecting on the approach taken last Sunday re the clash between church services there and the Women's Football World Cup final. At the foot of the original post I have added some citations from Ian's post.
Original Post: Over the weekend I noticed on Twitter a bit of CofE controversy: The Women's Football World Cup Final (featuring England v Spain) was going to be shown at a time clashing with many church service times in England. Cue a newspaper article about changes to service times, setting up TV screens in church halls and that sort of thing ... and some Twitter comment about perfidious, feckless church leaders giving into the spirit of the times etc etc.
Now, as one able to watch the match at the non-problematic-ecclesiastical time of 10 pm in NZ, I have no comment to make about what CofE bishops, vicars, parishioners should or should not have been doing. BUT I have been alerted to a leetle problem looming on our ecclesiastical horizons ...
Very soon the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off in France and the All Blacks as always are going to win it, by winning semifinal and then final matches. (This time around they are very unlikely to lose a quarter-final match - it did happen in 2007 - but never before or since, so we will only worry about the ecclesiastical impact of the semi-finals and final matches.)
Yes, yes, of course I understand that since it is a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will win there is no need to bother with watching them, but, there is just the slightest sliver of a chance that they won't so we should work out whether we can watch them play or not. Actually, that sentence is just a bit of journalistic bravado: there is quite a big chance they won't win because some very good teams - Ireland and/or France stand in their way. Possibly South Africa too.
So, to the reality of the timetable:
Semi-finals, NZ time: 8 am Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 October
Final, NZ time: 8 am Sunday 29 October.
ABs in first semi-final, no probs; ABs in second semi-final and/or in final, a bit of a challenge ...
Obviously an 8 am match clashes with every 8 am service in our churches.
And, given the length of time matches of this importance take, matches will finish hard up against the start of 10 am service and cross-over 9 am and 9.30 am services.
What to do?
In what follows I am trying to explore the matter and intentionally not come to a definitive judgment (which I may need to do as a bishop to my diocese, and, if I do, I won't be publishing it here before communicating it to our parish leaders).
Possibilities appear to include:
- no episcopal direction, leave matters to local choice [by statute vicars have right to set service times] and local creativity (e.g. setting up a screen in the church hall so people can quickly move to church for the beginning of the 10 am service);
- (with or without episcopal direction) staunchly offer all services of worship as usual and leave it to parishioners to choose ... and, always remembering, not everyone is a rugby fan! Matches can be recorded, watched later in the day, etc.
- cancel the 8 am service but stick with the 10 am service (where that is the morning programme) or, if say, a 9.30 am service is the service for the morning, start it at 10.30 am ... etc re changes to usual programmes. The frisson here is the possibility of needing to do this for two Sundays in a row.
- wake up on the Sundays concerned and say, "You know what, I think I'll go to Evensong tonight"!
What about the theology of whatever we might do?
That is where things get a little interesting (IMHO).
Absolutely, there is a theology of commitment to Christ being understood as commitment without distractions or deviations. You go to church at [say] 10 am on a Sunday morning. You go every Sunday (save for illness and snowstorms) and certainly go if something as ephemeral as sport proposes an alternative. A Twitter correspondent, Fr George Reeves expresses one aspect of this theology of commitment with a well made point for clergy to consider:
I'm a football fan, but honestly - if those of us who are clergy don't think that going to church should take priority over watching the game live, how on earth can we expect anyone to ever prioritise getting up on a Sunday morning for worship?
But, is there not also a theology of well, I am not sure what to call it, but along the lines of "living in the world, sharing the joys and sorrows of society, enjoying the gifts of creation, one of which is the joy and pleasure of sport, and serving a God who never actually laid down a rule that being a disciple means choosing one and only one regular time of worship and whatever happens (apart from illness and snowstorms) sticking to it"? More technically, might we invoke theologies of creation and of incarnation?
To which, of course, a reply might be, "And does not a theology of creation imply a theology of Sabbath - of commitment to rest from the ordinary things of life and to using the "restfulness" of the Sabbath to worship the Lord without distraction?"
(Let's be honest, racing from the glories of a might AB victory concluded at 9.55 am or the despair of a disgraceful loss at 9.54 am, to worship God at 10 am, is not to arrive in church in an undistracted frame of mind!)
Somewhere in a theology of commitment to Christ intersecting with a theology of Sabbath, there is a call to us to consider what it means to live a holy life, one which stands apart from society and lives distinctively and differently to its drum beat.
In short, before we determine "what to do", we should focus on "what to think": I look forward to your comments ...
Postscript, after the Women's Football Final: It is, after all, just a game!
Back to update, words from Ian Paul's post:
" at the heart of this discussion: does Christian discipleship make demands of us, and should weekly attendance at gathered worship in our local faith communities take priority over other interests? My favourite comment on this came from someone in quite a different ‘tradition’ from me, but made the point eloquently:
The fundamental business of life is worship. At the root of all your being, your intellectual studies, the games you play, whatever it is, the impulse to do them well is and ought to be understood as being an impulse towards God, the source of all that is excellent. All life ought to be worship; and we know quite well there is no chance it will be worship unless we have times when we have worship and nothing else."
"Even a cursory glance at the gospels makes it clear that Jesus was unafraid to make demands of those who would follow him. Matthew gathers together some of his most challenging statements in Matt 8.18–22, but in fact they are threaded all through the gospel, from start to finish.
We don’t want to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of those who are on the fringes of faith, or wanting to explore, or who are at critical junctures in their transition in both life and faith. That is why it is sensible to have a flexible approach to ensure, for example, that teenagers with sports interests are still able to be part of Christian fellowship as they grow in faith. And Jesus never tells us that we must ‘come to church’ at a particular time!"