I AM reliably informed that, within many dioceses in the Church
of England, vociferous conflict between the clergy is not
necessarily the norm. A paternalistic model of episcopal leadership
often combines with a measure of deference to create an
expectation, which is largely successful, that those of different
church traditions can and should minister alongside each other in
In the diocese of Southwark, the expectation is different.
Having spent all my ordained ministry here, I, like many others,
assume that its entrenched theological traditions will noisily
express their disagreement with one another. Several of the most
diverse theological groupings within the C of E possess strongholds
within Southwark, and it shows.
All of this makes it more remarkable that, last week, a group of
Southwark clerics, representing almost every theological tradition,
worked together to achieve something that had previously eluded the
diocese for 37 years: the winning of the Church Times
Often, the matches turn on whether sides manage to prevent the
star batsman, who is present in most opposition teams, from scoring
a century. In the case of the final, London's key player did score
100, but a great team effort from Southwark meant that London's
total was still overhauled. As anyone who has played sport
regularly will know, the unity of team spirit can often make an
THIS leads to the more startling achievement of a group of
clergy, drawn from camps that are so often in bitter opposition,
working together so well. Within the Southwark team this year were
prominent members of Inclusive Church, Reform, Fulcrum, Forward in
Faith, and Affirming Catholicism, plus the first woman player to
take part in a final in the Cup's 62-year history.
There were jokes, of course. Some of us quipped that the team
members from Reform and Forward in Faith might seek "alternative
captaincy oversight", while, at some points, members of Inclusive
Church were accused of failing "to play straight", or tampering
with the ball, in an effort "to swing it both ways".
When I first played for the team, a member of Co-Mission wryly
commented that it was nice for us finally to be on the same side,
referring to the regular criticism that I have made of this
network. There was also speculation about whether our team, and
particularly its slip formation, could do with some New Wine
Charismatic types, who would be used to stretching their hands in
But, led by a gifted and thoughtful captain, a team comprising
clerics who in numerous ways seemed poles apart were able to work
together brilliantly, and to show consistently how a united body
can be much greater than the sum of its parts.
THE experience of this has inevitably led a number of us to
reflect on its potential lessons for church unity.
• The value of spending time together. One of
the great values of cricket is the pace at which it is played,
which allows people to spend a whole day in each other's company -
and not only during the match, but on car journeys to and from the
games as well.
In the earlier part of the season, most of us made a conscious
effort to avoid much discussion of church politics or theology,
but, as time went on, these areas were inevitably touched on. As a
result of the friendship and trust that had been built up, however,
such conversations were usually far less defensive than they might
otherwise have been. They were marked by a quality of listening
that led to far more understanding of each other's perspectives.
Stereotypes start to drop away as you discover realities very
different from those that you had assumed to be the case.
The demands of the cricket, or suddenly realising that you have
taken a wrong turn on the way to the match, are usually enough to
suspend such conversations at just the right moment, thus ensuring
that "less is more," and that all participants are left with just
enough to go away and reflect on.
• The impact of being involved in a common
endeavour. Playing together forces reliance on one
another, particularly within a team that has significant
weaknesses. One of the most outstanding features of Southwark's
season this year was the team's noisy encouragement of one another
when good fielding occurred, but also at those points where
players' innings or bowling spells were less successful. Having to
give, but even more to receive, such encouragement requires a
humility that then helps to accelerate the breaking down of
barriers and suspicion more swiftly than almost anything else.
• The place of communication and celebration.
Group emails before and after matches are crucial in maintaining
the relationships that have been formed. Banter and encouragement
then continued, combined with the constant celebration of
achievements, however small, and the fostering of a strong sense of
community, mutual care, and respect.
Some readers might be shocked at the admissions underlying all
this, and the scandal of a game of cricket's being needed to foster
such relationships between fellow Christians, let alone clerics.
This is a fair point, although relationships that can appear good
in, say, clergy chapter meetings can in reality be superficial.
The truth is that the experience of playing for Southwark
diocese this year has taught all of its players, across our very
different traditions, valuable lessons about genuine church unity.
At the heart of the gospel is God's making one united people,
marked out by faith in Jesus, and by love for one another, using
their different gifts and insights to work for him together.
While the winning of a cricket cup is not necessarily God's most
pressing concern, it has made all of us in the team ponder how we
might use the unity that he has formed among us to work together
for him more effectively in other ways as well. As one of our
players commented at the end of a season that none of us will
forget: "The diocese that plays together stays together."
The Revd Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New
Malden, and chair of Fulcrum, the Open Evangelical network. At
the Church Times Cricket Cup Final, he was 12th man for