Lancashire is leading the way in sport once again, as The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) is announced as one of seven ‘pilot Dioceses’ across the country to include sport and wellbeing in their mission.
Sports and fitness activities are to be championed as part of plans (announced by the Church of England nationally) to reach more people with the message of the Christian faith and promote the wellbeing of communities.
Seven dioceses across the country, including those in Lancashire, Surrey, Birmingham, Norfolk and Gloucestershire, are to take part in the pilot projects.
The dioceses hope to provide a range of different activities from personal fitness classes to holiday football clubs, outdoor pursuits and even sports quizzes.
Lancashire has already been leading the way in sports mission thanks to its commitment to its ‘Ministry of Sport’ initiative which was launched locally here in March 2017 and has been championed by Keith McIntosh from St Andrew’s Church in Leyland, who is the ‘Sports Ministry Ambassador’ for Lancashire.
Since then, activities have included large-scale County events like a mass Zumbathon which has taken place for the past two years running at Blackburn Cathedral.
The group has also encouraged and promoted equally important parish-based activities, such as a ‘Ministry of Sport Clubhouse’ at St Andrew’s in Leyland (providing advice and training) and workshops for sports mission at St Cuthbert’s in Fulwood.
Lancashire parishes have also been encouraged to invite people to organise big screen showings in church halls of important football and rugby matches and many have done so, including the parish St Peter’s Church in Scorton where Rev. Anton Muller led an initiative to screen world cup games in 2018, complete with a pop-up pub called ‘The Carpenter’s Arms’.
Other parishes have started holiday sports schemes and personal fitness classes and sports quizzes, inviting the local community to participate and there has even been a Christian wrestling evening!
Now this Diocese is one of the seven ‘pilots’ it is hoped the sports mission work in Lancashire will reach new levels of success.
Part of the benefit of being a pilot Diocese will be new training for lay and ordained leaders in sports and wellbeing ministry, which is being provided as part of the programme by Ridley Hall, the Anglican theological college in Cambridge.
The work will be carried out in partnership with groups such as Christians in Sport, Sports Chaplaincy UK, Ambassador Football and the Scripture Union. A national project officer will be appointed to help dioceses develop their plans and provide expert help and advice.
Leading on the launch of the pilot scheme is the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev. Libby Lane, who is the newly designated lead Bishop for Sport. Bishop Libby is joined locally by Rt Rev. Dr Jill Duff, the Bishop of Lancaster, who oversees the Diocesan team here in Lancashire.
Bishop Jill said today: “I am delighted our Diocese has been chosen as one of these magnificent seven pilot Dioceses! As part of our Vision 2026 we are committed to healthy churches transforming communities and our Ministry of Sport team has been, and will continue to be, a vital part of our mission to the people of Lancashire.
“Lancashire churches were the birthplace of many of our football teams and sporting activities in the 19th century, so it is fitting that sport is ‘coming home’. Playing sport expresses what it means to be a human being in a unique way. It also provides such natural opportunities for sharing the Gospel. I have some of the most fascinating conversations about life, the universe and Jesus on the rugby touchline while watching my son play.”
Speaking at the launch in London, Bishop Libby added: “Sports ministry has the potential to transform lives and communities for good through improved health and wellbeing, personal mentoring, leadership development and community cohesion. These projects are good news, sharing the Christian faith in word and action.”
Sports Ministry Ambassador Keith McIntosh works alongside Bishop Jill and was also at the launch event.
Keith said: “I am delighted we have been invited to be one of the pilot Dioceses to engage with the new Church of England sport and wellbeing project. We look forward to playing an active part; encouraging healthy churches to be engaging their local sporting communities with the Gospel, as part of our Vision 2026 strategy.”
Meanwhile, The Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, Dave Male, added: “The Church of England has always been involved in sport – this is about rediscovering our roots and association with sports and wellbeing. We believe that this work presents the Church of England with an opportunity through its dioceses to reach many millions of people who would not otherwise be in church on a Sunday.”
Ronnie Semley, February 2020