I had intended to make one of my rare appearances in my village church last Sunday morning but clearly the Holy Spirit had other ideas. My old fashioned clock was running an hour slow so I got a much more interesting sermon by staying home and watching the Rugby World Cup.
There is so much more to watching sport than just sitting in front of a TV screen cheering or groaning as your favourite team wins or loses. It can be both a thought-provoking and a spiritual experience.
The game I watched was Wales v Australia in Pool D. It was an excellent match, ending on a most satisfying cliff hanger. We — I speak for Wales — were ahead by 4 points but in the last ten minutes it looked as if Australia were very likely to get another try and win by one point. There were many terrific, unrelenting struggles on the touch line. Exactly the sort of situation where tempers can fray, but they didn’t. Far from it.
At one point, a few minutes from the finish, both George North and an Aussie player leapt high into the air for the ball. It slipped through George’s fingers into the hands of his opponent, who then tripped and fell to the ground. The ball rolled into touch.
Were you watching? Did you see what happened next? George held down his hand to his fallen opponent and helped to haul him to his feet. As they walked back together George ruffled the other man’s head and they grinned at each other.
I can’t see that sort of thing happening during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Englalnd. It’s even less likely in the Church in Wales. From all I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of the discussions in Synod, if I were there I would have many opponents. Anyone who supports Same Sex Marriage and all the other sex/gender shenanigans would undoubtedly consider me to be a homophobic bigot lacking any compassion. In which case, I suspect they would be more likely to push me over than give me a helping hand, and, when I staggered to my feet, would trip me up again.
That’s the difference between the Welsh Rugby Union and the Anglican Church in Britain. The former may be gentlemanly hooligans but they know there is a strict rule book which must be obeyed. Of course, the players will try what they can get away with when the Ref isn’t looking — the odd sly shove or a muttered rude word — but the players and the spectators know there are consequences for broken rules. You can get a Penalty against your whole team or you can end up in the Sin Bin.
It’s quite otherwise with the Church. For a start Anglican bishops don’t really do sin any more. Not only do the senior clergy not get penalised for disobeying the rules but they are much more likely to get promoted. It’s the traditional law-abiding Parish priests who land in the Sin Bin or act as scapegoats.
Could it be that falling church numbers have a lot to do with our competing love of sport. We admire and respect our top sports men and women for their single-minded devotion and dedication to what they love. Few of them would take time off from training to waste time on Brexit. It’s different for Bishops. Having thrown away the rule book they don’t know what else to do. Organise a fun-fair or a fashion show, perhaps.
**Computer problems, so no pictures I’m afraid though I do have a lovely one, on my screen, of George North racing for the touch line