'Getting wickets and preaching a good sermon are for me equally rare'

by
02 November 2006

For sheer sustained tension, high drama, extraordinary performances and sportsmanship it has been the most moving and nerve-wrecking summer of sport. It has been the most incredible series of cricket I can ever recall watching, and I am impressed that so many judges more knowledgeable than I have said exactly that.

I keep hearing people talking about the tragedy of cricket being lost from terrestrial television, but I wonder if I am alone in being grateful that at least it might mean our being spared the agony of the last few weeks [of the Test series] - neither my family nor I could face it.

The last day of the final Test was altogether too much for me. I had to go and play golf instead, and when I had finished 18 holes and the match was not yet over, had to go and play another nine. It was the only way to survive; but my knees have been complaining ever since.

To me the cricketers are true heroes - for being able to produce wonderful feats in the face of such unremitting tension, which has always seemed to me the true test of a sportsman or woman.

I am, I suppose, the living embodiment of Andy Warhol's "famous for 15 minutes". An undistinguished career in and around the Cambridge and Oxford sides of the mid-1970s was changed by one singularly fortunate wicket, when Geoffrey Boycott, on 0, kindly donated his wicket to me in the first over of a match against Yorkshire.

It was such a fluke, that Alan Gibson, writing in The Times, attributed it
to "countless hours of extempore prayer in Wycliffe chapel the night before" . In fact, when Boycott hit the ball back to me - he was caught and bowled - I genuinely thought it was a bump ball, which prompted Gibson to write the following day: "This is just the sort of pusillanimity which is getting the Church of England such a bad name."

I no longer play cricket myself. Advancing years, increasing weight, and dodgy knees (I have lost three out of four cartilages) have made it all but impossible. But my eight-year-old son Daniel has fallen in love with the game, and press-gangs me into bowling at him, batting against him in the garden - what an incredible privilege it is to have such wonderful vicarage gardens!

It is sad to see the state into which school sport has fallen in many of our state schools. I say this as someone who had the fortune of playing cricket at school. But I am full of admiration for the way that so many local clubs have taken up the challenge. Daniel is part of a local club that has better facilities and coaching than I ever had at the same age. Although it is a relatively small rural community, they have players representing the county, Gloucestershire, at different age groups, and a former county player regularly comes to coach them. And I have no doubt there are many youngsters out there longing to be the new Freddy Flintoff.

Getting wickets and preaching a good sermon for me are equally surprising and equally rare.

I find I return more and more to the classics of previous ages. So many of the books on the Christian market these days are either lightweight (and I can hardly talk, since I wrote one myself) or well researched but ultimately unsatisfying, even self-centred how-to books - how to grow your church, have a happy marriage, make the most of your gifts, etc. Particular favourites are anything by J. C. Ryle, and Charles Spurgeon.

This summer I had a sabbatical, my first in almost 25 years of ordained ministry. I read two very different books on church, the C of E's Mission-shaped Church (Church House, 2004) and Philip Ryken's City on a Hill (Moody, 2003).

In all honesty, I found the contrast painful. Although the former is full of ideas for making church more "relevant", some of them undoubtedly useful and interesting, it never really grappled with the question of what the gospel is. It all seemed so desperately pragmatic. I searched
the index and was horrified to discover no reference to preaching, and none to prayer. Do they no longer matter?

I got married relatively late in life, at 38, and have always argued that it is the best way. If she is the right girl - as Gillian absolutely is - she is worth waiting for. If not, then you have got less long to live with her. Gillian and the family (Bethan, Daniel, and Anna) are so central to what we do here, they provide so many links with the community, and a human face to the ministry, that I cannot imagine doing without them.

My childhood ambitions were to play cricket and football for England.

The choice of a life partner and the choice of a vocation are probably the most important I have made. Although, to be honest, neither really seemed like choices so much as recognitions of the inevitable.

My biggest regret is people I have let down by not being a better friend to them.

I would like to be remembered as someone whom God used to bring others to a living faith, and prepare them for eternity.

There have been too many memorable sermons to mention, but it was one by the late David Watson at Cambridge on 11 November 1973 that changed my life.

The greatest person I have ever had the privilege of meeting is John Stott. His influence upon the Church of England over the last 50 years has been incalculable, and his godliness and wisdom set him apart as a true man of God.

My favourite parts of the Bible are the Psalms, and Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

I last got angry about the cricket, and I feel happiest when all the family are on form.

My favourite fair-trade product is tea, and I am a Mac-addict (computers, that is).

I would most like to get locked in a church with someone with the key.

The annual Cricket Society service will be held this Sunday at St Mary' s, Horsham, West Sussex, at 11.15 a.m.

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