The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, has a football story to tell…
Thousands of BBC local radio listeners across England recently tuned in to an unusual sporting-themed church service.
It wasn’t broadcast from a typical place of worship, a church or a cathedral, but from Wycombe Wanderers FC – a football club in the Championship, the second rung of English soccer.
Four of the team’s leading players joined the Buckinghamshire club’s chaplain Benedict Musola for the special act of worship broadcast across the country’s 38 BBC local radio stations.
Professional footballers Adebayo Akinfenwa, Jason McCarthy, Alex Samuel and Cameron Yates spoke of their Christian faith during the 30-minute service broadcast in January.
Chaplain Benedict Musola explained how the team prayed on the pitch before matches and held regular Bible studies at their training ground.
He told listeners: “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve God in this role, which uniquely combines my passion for God and my passion for football.”
The service featuring Wycombe Wanderers underlined the close links between football and faith.
In ‘Thank God for Football,’ (SPCK, 2006), author Peter Lupson featured chapters on the Christian roots of soccer clubs including Aston Villa, Barnsley, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Queen’s Park Rangers, Southampton, Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Wycombe Wanderers service is one of a series of Christian acts of worship broadcast on BBC local radio stations at 8am on Sundays since the onset of the pandemic last March.
The services have included speakers and musicians from a wide range of denominations and have won praise for easing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The Sunday services have formed part of the important role played by local media during the series of lockdowns.
Callers to BBC local radio stations – often older people – have been expressing their thanks for keeping them in touch and raising their spirits during the pandemic.
Commenting on the church services, Chris Burns, Head of Local Radio for the BBC, said: “We know from personal testament just how important these broadcasts have proved to be. They have played an important role in bringing communities together virtually so no one need feel they are on their own.
“We expanded our religious programming on the first weekend of lockdown in March and will continue to broadcast services and reflections until life returns to normal.”
The Ven John Barton considers the sorrows of the past year.
The Queen recently spoke for the whole country when she said that many are, “tinged with sadness. Some (are) mourning the loss of those dear to them and other missing friends and family members, distanced for safety. When all they really want … is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand.”
We may have become accustomed to wearing face masks in public, keeping our distance from others, cutting out social gatherings, and attending church services online, but ‘no touching’ seems the cruellest of punishments.
As one vicar friend of mine said, the Church has had to learn a lot from lockdown:
“That Zoom is no substitute for meeting together, sharing warmth, laughter, tears – and drinking from the same cup. We have a commonality in Christ, whoever we are. Christianity is more ‘us’ than ‘me’.
“Also, we cannot ignore those who will bear considerable cost arising from the pandemic. People have lost loved ones, businesses, confidence, jobs. It is vital that the church becomes a place of hope – not glib, cliched words – but solid hope drawn from Scripture and made real in action. The church could become a real hub of the local community.
“But we have to rethink much of what we do and how we say things. The money has all but gone now and the church has to refocus on how it attracts people, what it says in plain English, how it presents itself and provides a warm welcome to those who haven’t a clue what Christianity is…. and all this on a very tight budget!”
He’s got to be right. And some of us could begin to apply some of his ideas right now, even before the pandemic is under control.
As a direct consequence of lockdown, many of us have much more money in the bank than we bargained for. We could send a substantial sum to our local church, and some to an overseas charity, to make some of those ambitions come true. With time on our hands, we could earmark an hour or two for emailing or phoning those in our address book who live alone. We could buy extra supplies for a food bank on our next visit to the supermarket.
And we must ask God to make our church more comprehensible to those who consider themselves outsiders.
Here in the UK we may struggle to hold services because of coronavirus, but at least no one in the government is threatening to arrest and imprison us for just being Christians! And yet that is the harsh reality for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world today. This article will help remind you of the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A Christian persecution watchdog has warned that more Christians around the world are suffering because of their faith, and the kind of persecution they’re experiencing has intensified.
Open Doors has found that more than 340 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith, amounting to one in eight worldwide.
Now the charity has released its 2021 World Watch List (WWL) which highlights the top 50 countries that are most hostile toward Christians.
Here are the top ten.
1. North Korea
Being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be taken to a labour camp as a political criminal.
ISIS and the Taliban continue to have a strong, violent presence in Afghanistan, with the Taliban controlling large regions.
Islam is considered a crucial part of Somali identity, and if any Somali is suspected of having converted to Christianity, they are in great danger. Members of their family, clan or community will harass, intimidate or even kill them. Women may be raped and forcibly married.
There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion and very limited possibility of public church life in Libya. Although there are around 34,500 Christians in the country, only a tiny number (approximately 150) are Libyan – the majority are expatriates and migrant workers.
Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are used to target Christians, and Islamic extremist groups vehemently “defend” these laws, including attacking or killing those believed to have contravened them.
Government security forces monitor phone calls, scrutinise activity and conduct countless raids which target Christians, seize Christian materials and damage house churches. Christians can be arrested and imprisoned without trial.
Christians in Yemen usually keep their faith secret, because if they are discovered then they could face the death penalty. Leaving Islam is forbidden, and all Yemenis are considered Muslims by the state.
The Iranian government sees the conversion of Muslims to Christianity as an attempt by Western countries to undermine the Islamic rule of Iran. Christians from a Muslim background are persecuted the most, primarily by the government, but also by their families and communities.
More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country. Violent attacks by Boko Haram, Hausa-Fulani Muslim militant herdsmen, ISWAP (an affiliate of ISIS) and other Islamic extremist groups are common in the north and middle belt of the country, and they are becoming more common further south.
Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus, and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam. They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background.
The events of Easter took place over a week, traditionally called Passion Week.
It began on Palm Sunday. After all His teaching and healing, Jesus had built a following.
On the Sunday before He was to die, Jesus and His followers arrived at Jerusalem. The city was crowded. Jewish people were arriving from to celebrate Passover. This commemorates how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt nearly 1,500 year earlier.
Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey. He was greeted like a conquering hero. Cheering crowds waved palm branches in tribute. He was hailed as the Messiah who had come to re-establish a Jewish kingdom.
The next day they returned to Jerusalem. Jesus went to the temple, the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and confronted the money-changers and merchants who were ripping off the people. He overturned their tables and accused them of being thieves. The religious authorities were alarmed and feared how He was stirring up the crowds.
On the Tuesday, they challenged Jesus, questioning His authority. He answered by challenging and condemning their hypocrisy. Later that day Jesus spoke to His disciples about future times. He warned them about fake religious leaders; the coming destruction of Jerusalem; wars, earthquakes and famines; and how His followers would face persecution.
By midweek the Jewish religious leaders and elders were so angry with Jesus that they began plotting to arrest and kill Him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Him to them.
Jesus and the 12 disciples gathered on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Passover meal. This is known as the Last Supper. During the evening, Jesus initiated a ritual still marked by Christians – Holy Communion – which commemorates His death. Jesus broke bread and shared it and a cup of wine with His disciples.
Judas then left to meet the other plotters. Jesus continued to teach the others and then went outside into an olive grove to pray. He even prayed for all future believers. He agonised over what was to come but chose the way of obedience. The Bible book, Luke, records Him praying, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’. Minutes later Judas arrived with soldiers and the chief priests and Jesus was arrested.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent was called ‘Mid-Lent’ or ‘Refreshment Sunday’, when the rigors of Lent were relaxed more than was normal for a feast day. It is called Mothering Sunday as a reference to the Epistle reading for the Day (Galatians 4:21-31). The Lenten Epistles follow from each other with teaching about our life as Christians and how we are to follow Christ.
On Mid-Lent Sunday the Epistle talks of bondage and freedom; the bondage of the Law and the Old Covenant as compared to the freedom in Christ, “the promised one”, and the New Covenant. Verse 26 reads “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” We gain our freedom from Christ and, as it was seen before the Reformation, the Church.
Thus, Mothering Sunday is about the freedom that we gain through the promise of Jesus Christ delivered through our Mother the Church. People were encouraged to go to their ‘Mother Church’ (their home church or their home Cathedral) to worship and give thanks. Hence apprentices, and others, went home for the weekend and often brought gifts (or accumulated pay) home to their family.
On the other hand, Mother’s Day is a secular festival invented in 1904 and is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in May in most countries in the world. The UK seems to be the exception. In recent years Mothering Sunday has been hijacked to take the place of a special, secular day to give thanks for our mothers.