Sunday, August 20, 2023

Watch World Cup Final[s] or Go To Church? [Update]

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:

"This then leads us to the issue 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:

Our principal act of worship takes place at 10.30am…For those wishing to watch the match without turning down the lavish invitation the Lord makes to share communion at his table, there’ll also be a celebration of the Holy Communion at 8am lasting around 45 minutes. All are welcome, and there’s no charge to enter. And we’ll warmly cheer on England in the World Cup Final once our obligations to the bread of life and the cup of salvation are honoured.

As Niall Gooch notes:

It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at these stories, but there is perhaps a serious point to be made about how British Christianity—not just the Church of England—so often appears to be apologising for making any demands at all on its adherents.

In fact, the statement about Sunday worship on the C of E website is rather good, and it includes this quotation from William Temple:

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.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7.13–14).

His invitation is sometimes quoted as telling us that ‘my yoke is easy’ (Matt 11.29) but the word here is χρηστός, which has the sense of kind, the yoke put on an animal by a kind master, enabling the animal to work well and effectively. It is a yoke that does not chaff as we go about the hard work of being a disciple of Jesus.

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!"


Anonymous said...

Well, Peter, I know Anglicans don't recognise the inspiration of the Deuteroncanonical books, but Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that "the Church doth read [them] for example of life and instruction in manners", so may I urge you to preach on the Hellenization of Jerusalem in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, as recorded in 2 Maccabees 4.12-17:

"12With great enthusiasm he built a stadium near the Temple hill and led our finest young men to adopt the Greek custom of participating in athletic events. 13Because of the unrivalled wickedness of Jason, that ungodly and illegitimate High Priest, the craze for the Greek way of life and for foreign customs reached such a point 14that even the priests lost all interest in their sacred duties. They lost interest in the Temple services and neglected the sacrifices. Just as soon as the signal was given, they would rush off to take part in the games that were forbidden by our Law. 15They did not care about anything their ancestors had valued; they prized only Greek honours. 16And this turned out to be the source of all their troubles, for the very people whose ways they admired and whose customs they tried to imitate became their enemies and oppressed them. 17It is a serious thing to disregard God's law, as you will see from the following events."

All hypothetical, of course!
Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Jean said...

Ahh the dilemma’s! And the advantages of small town life - only 5 mins to get to church 😆…..

Another long term conundrum you have raised +Peter. Michael Jones was a sterling Christian example of a sportsman and man of faith (and still is), however, as people note this was before the professionalism of sport where contracts rest on always being available.

I played soccer/football for years on Sunday’s at university (women were relegated to Sunday playing) at a time when I didn’t attend church. When I came back to faith I did not consider sport on Sunday’s …. I never saw it as a punishment or a sacrifice it was a choice of what was most important to me at the time.

It is not just sport but also shift work especially for students and those in the caring professions or shift work that impact on Sunday attendance. I tend to think if it is one Sunday every so often that is missed it’s probably not going to be faith-impacting, however, if it happens regularly it may be. I remember a passionate youth group member in Wgtn who got a job on a Sunday morning and that was it she dropped out of church life and a few months later her parents did also - her parents encouraged her taking the job. While worship is not confined to Sunday mornings or Sundays in general if there are few other opportunities available for collective worship it requires a person with a strong self-discipline in their faith life to remain steadfast.

Moya said...

These days there is normally an option my All Black supporting family takes of recording the games and watching on Sunday afternoon. Though, of course, they hope no enthusiastic (or depressed) person at church will reveal the outcome!

Anonymous said...


Jean said...

Hey Moya, oh yes I can relate to that even with the overseas/played late games 😆, the pensive looks at church morning tea times between those who did stay up to watch the ‘game’ and those who didn’t!!

BW what a unique article…. : ) …. While a lot of our deconsecrated churches here are re-purposed as houses, craft shops or cafes I have yet before to come across one used for housing cows! The secularisation of France being the beginning of this tale is a sobering reminder to put our highest value on cherishing our faith - and over and above buildings. As a you-do-not really need to know aside, inside bred cows produce white butter rather than yellow, NZ takes the yellow (the good part) out of it’s butter to export it to the US otherwise people view it as rancid.

MsLiz said...

Strange re the pale butter.. how things change!

"In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura recalls how she and Mary would help Ma make homemade butter. Not only would they churn it in a butter churn, but then they would color it with carrot juice, and mold it into pretty shapes for their visitors. Making the butter beautiful was a nice touch that Ma added to the butter-making process."


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Well, Peter, my recent travels have taken me to around England to see friends and relatives, and last night (Friday) I was at Twickenham with my UK-South African friend. All I can say is, if the All Blacks play in the RWC the way they did last night maybe more sports fans will turn up in church.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
On yesterday's offering it is difficult to see the ABs advancing beyond the quarter-finals!

Anonymous said...

Well, I fancy Samoa's chances on today's offering.
Yesterday was abysmal: the Boks dominated from the start and didn't miss a beat in their kicking. The worst margin of defeat in the ABs' history, I believe. Poor in the scrums and a second Barrett red carded. Better get praying.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh