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The World Cup and the Church

A photo of Bobby Moore, England captain in 1966

On a personal level, I am about to embark on my once-every-four-years month-long trial of both tortuous nervousness, mixed with moments of sheer joy and hope, culminating in bleak disappointment and despair. Yes, the FIFA World Cup is here again.

As regular readers will know, I’m a football fan. In fact, for once, I have more reason to be cheerful about football than usual given that my beloved Tottenham Hotspur have actually managed to achieve something and qualified for the Champions League next season.

Even more important to me, however, than Spurs’ impending European adventure is the hope that I will one day live to see England win their second World Cup. I wasn’t around for the first one and the thought that I might never see my compatriots lift the most-hallowed trophy in football fills me with dread. So I will be watching the games, an anxious knot in my stomach, knowing that the chances of failure are more real than the chances of success. I’ll be watching knowing that if we foul it up, it’s another four years until we get another chance. However, I will also be watching hoping and praying that England actually play to their potential and beyond and conquer the world.

All that aside, however, this World Cup represents the first opportunity for me to actually influence church activity during the tournament. I’m intrigued and fascinated by the way our nation changes once every couple of years for a month or so. England flags appear everywhere, people actually talk to each other in the street, enormous crowds gather to share good-natured community, the stock-market goes up and generally the feel-good factor is enormous. It’s also, I think, a great opportunity for the Church to engage with our nation, to share a common passion and to show that some of us at least are actually normal people… just people who happen to believe and trust in God.

So, at the church where I serve, an eight foot banner is going on our church wall that states ‘We’re praying for England’ across a large St. George’s cross. The banner is intended to highlight that we do pray for our nation every single week but also that we’re praying for a good World Cup in the same manner of the recent official Church of England prayers (and not, I swiftly add, praying that God will give England victory which seems dodgy theologically to me).

We’re also hosting a free BBQ on June 12th to celebrate England’s first game and will be showing the England 1966 game on our big screens before the current crop of players takes on the USA.

Finally, rather than doing something separate all through the tournament, it seemed better to just get stuck in with people locally. So we’re working with our local pub to support their trade for the other games and join with everyone who gathers there in hopefully celebrating an historic England title. We can but dream after all… and let’s face it, if it comes down to penalties, I’ll be praying – whether it’s dodgy theology or otherwise.

Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being,
guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup.
May all find in this competition a source of celebration,
an experience of common humanity and
a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others.
(Official Church of England prayer for the 2010 tournament)

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